Here’s another little snippet that further highlights the Permanent Secretary’s lack of candour with Stormont’s PAC. When asked by Patsy McGlone about the apparent conflict of interest in pulling Peter Dixon into the Independent Review Team when both the Phoenix Gas CEO and Mr MacKenzie were such close colleagues, Paul Priestly gave this answer:
I have known Peter Dixon as a business contact for a couple of years. This is a very small place, so it is inevitable that people will know each other. The judgement to make is whether these people are professional and have high integrity and whether they undertook an evidence-based review. I think that the answer to the last question is yes — the review was evidence based. They reached their conclusions on the basis of evidence.
What Mr Priestly does not tell the PAC at this point is that his Minister Conor Murphy had appointed this ‘business contact’ to the Board of the Belfast Harbour Commissioners; probably one of the most important and prestigious public appointments in Northern Ireland.
By refuting the idea that MacKenzie’s close relationship to Dixon was a conflict of interest Priestly then unintentionally reveals another for his own department. This means that three out of five of the main figures involved in the set up and conduct of the Independent Inquiry Team are now linked by a number of interlocking interests.
Which then begs the question: how was this IRT ever to be construed as being materially independent?