NI Water: “I think it would be helpful for you to meet them…”

Okay, we now have some documents of our own to share. The first is an email sent from Peter Dixon to Paul Priestley and copied to Jackie Henry and Glenn Thompson, Mr Dixon’s fellow members of the Independent Review Team on foot of who’s report the Minister sacked the four NEDs at NI Water.

It’s the text of the letter that was sent to the Chair of the PAC on Phoenix headed notepaper. The same letter that Mr Dixon withdrew after a meeting with his own board. The significance here is the date. It is the same date as the letter, and it’s time stamped at 10.08 in the morning.

That means that Mr Dixon had not simply appraised his fellow IRT members (which you might expect), but he had also informed the Permanent Secretary almost 24 hours before the members of the PAC named in the letter had received the complaint.

This is relevant because of the questions relating to the independence of the IRT from the Permanent Secretary and the Department feature so heavily in the very line of question Dixon complains about to publicly.

But this second email from Mr Priestley to the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland and Head of the Northern Ireland Audit Office, raises even more direct questions of the independence of that team from the department and Mr Priestley in particular:

In it he informs the Auditor General of the upset of two members of the IRT, Mr Dixon and Ms Henry. And asks (in BLOCK capitals) what plans he has “for assisting the PAC in coming to their final report”. He then goes on (still in BLOCKs) to suggest that “I think it would be helpful for you to meet them if the request is made.”

It puts quite another gloss on those Chinese Walls. And we are entitled to ask with even greater urgency, just how independent was this Independent Review Team? In the meantime, here’s the Northern Ireland Civil Service Code of Ethics

Slugger understands these materials have now been put in the hands of the Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, Bruce Robinson.

, , ,

  • Cynic

    Perhaps an MP might ask the Comptroller what he thought of being put in this position and what he did about it?

    Have we any record on his response?

  • Cynic

    By the way Mick, the way this is developing is a model for how bloggers can prise open dirty little secrets from Government

  • Pigeon Toes

    “But this second email from Mr Priestley to the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland and Head of the Northern Ireland Audit Office, raises even more direct questions of the independence of that team from the department and Mr Priestley in particular:”

    Especially when citizens have been raising concerns to PAC, and other committees,and which was then been sent to NIAO for comment.
    It is hardly now surprising that it came back with NIAO deciding not to take any further action, if Permanent Secretaries are able to direct the NIAO to the extent displayed here.

  • Drumlin Rock

    Is that for real????
    How long to you give Mr. P in office now? I get the feeling the assistance he is requesting is not really the type they are looking. I can now see why the chair of Phoenix was so keen to distance himself from his CE.

  • Pigeon Toes

    But what we have also established is that those MLA’s broke with convention with their line of questioning at PAC.

    All the more remarkable, then that Priestly is still hoping that NIAO will help them out of their um “difficulties”.

  • evidencebased

    This latest development is by far the most serious and concerning of the revealations to date, and raise some serious questions -which need to be answered,- in relation to the conduct of the Permanent Secretary, the members of the allegedly Independant Review Team,Phoenix Gas/ Terra Firma,and Deloitte.

    Why is Dixon sending his letter to the Permanent Secretary and members of the IRT before the Public Accounts Committee.?

    Does he regard them as of more respect than the Chairman of the PAC and it’s members?

    Why is the Permanent Secretary contacting the NIAO on behalf of supposedly Independant Review Team Members.Surely it’s not possible that they weren’t that “Independant “after all!??

    Why is Jackie Henry(Senior Partner Deloitte) insisting on a meeting with the NIAO outside the normal process.Was she going to part of Mr Priestley’s plans to assist NIAO with completion of report?

    What is Deloitte view of her behaviour-as a major auditing firm,do they think their partner should be trying to direct an NIAO report and findings?

    This is interference-plain and simple- with the work of the NIAO and PAC.

    Does Mr Priestley have such a limited knowledge of the political process(like Mr Dixon) that he needs it explained to him?

    Does Jackie Henry need it explained by Deloitte?

    We have now have had ample evidence that two of the three man IRT, have not only a tenuous grasp of matters of governance ,but,an inflated view of their own self importance.

    Dixon feels he can attack the PAC ,Henry thinks she can shape the work of the NIAO-what next a joint submission on how to run the country?
    Sorry -wouldn’t happen- I forgot -neither has the slighest grasp of Governance and Process! Obvious choices though for inclusion on a Panel to review such issues for Mr Priestley!

    I hope we hear from the Auditor General as to how he has responded to this blatant attempt to manipulate his work in order to suit the the needs of Priestley and his so called “Independant Review Team”

    More answers are required all round to get to the bottom of this story.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Oooh not long, but hopefully until the end of September at least.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “Why is the Permanent Secretary contacting the NIAO on behalf of supposedly Independant Review Team Members.Surely it’s not possible that they weren’t that “Independant “after all!??”

    Perhaps they are also under the impression that Paul Priestly could influence the NIAO…

    If true (and not smoke and mirrors) then it is truly damning for all concerned, least of all the “Independent” NIAO.

    Will Priestly now be thrown to the wolves, to maintain the illusion of the NIAO’s independece from government ?

    Is it likely that anyone will publicly suggest that he was acting outside his remit and this mess has been of his making?

  • William Markfelt


    [Text removed – William, you need to be very careful about what you say in this regard, and I don’t just mean the industrial language. We are all of us governed by law, net or no net – Mods]

    We really do need some sort of independent (i.e. no one screwing anyone else in any other quango, metaphorically speaking of course) inquiry into the entire existence of the NIAO.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Hmm well it does “give rise to a perception”…

  • Pigeon Toes

    Sometimes it is depressing beyond words to be proven right, especially when it has cost your home, your family life and shakes your belief in doing the right thing to the core.

    Though I’m glad Mr Priestly is getting the support he needs…

    “However, as I said, I have found the revelations that have come out since last autumn to be shocking. You work with people believing that they are being professional and have high integrity, but I have to tell the Committee that, at various points during this affair, we four witnesses have felt exposed and vulnerable
    . I have found myself
    having to give support to Laurence, Lian and Nicola. I have found myself going to the
    Comptroller and Auditor General for support and askthankfully, I am being encouraged that I am doing the right thing.
    It has been difficult for the people who thought that they were doing the right thing to feel that we are not and that we are almost victimised. I am not looking for your sympathy, but it has been tough”

  • Where’s the Priestly-Donnelly letter? The two published images appear to be identical.

  • Mick Fealty

    Bugger. I pulled the original because it had some personal information (mobile numbers) I thought were better redacted. Will sort.

  • Drumlin Rock

    yeah, spotted those, no-one answered though


  • William Markfelt

    There’s the rub, Mick. Some people AREN’T governed by law, but by kangaroo court-ism, by show trials, by a lack of proper due process.

    Some government agencies appear to operate their own variation of the law. Some of those who have fingers pointed at them by these clowns appear to be denied proper access to the law, and together ‘it gives rise to the perception’ that we have, in our midst, a Stasi-like self-styled ubermensch who appear to think they are above and beyond the law and can ride roughshod over everyone else.

    The ‘Stasi’ comment is not hyperbole. Essentially unnamed, faceless accusers are in the position of making accusations against others that are possibly groundless, nothing more than neughbours spying on neighbours, in effect.

    And the NIAO are central to this, a clearing house for whatever shit other government agencies want to throw that the wall.

    Their role in all this is becoming ever more clear. They are a rubber stamping exercise for whatever government agency vendettas that are out there, whatever slum clearance needs to be done in order to nurture something akin to what were described as Katherine the Great’s ‘favourites’. Essentially these were young fellas that she liked to shag, and the parallel is not mis-placed here. Various agencies are, metaphorically speaking, shagging their favourites here by getting rid of the awkward buggers.

    And the NIAO are up to their necks in it.

    (We won’t even, as yet, mention the real pillow talk between two figures inside and outside the board of a certain government agency which would also give rise to a perception that a manager within the agency is steering departmental policy to a wife on the board. But we’ll come to that, too, whenever i find an appropriate opening).

  • William Markfelt

    I don’t think it’s ‘interference’ with the work of the NIAO. It clearly simply points at the lie being told that the NIAO are somehow ‘independent’.

    Some of us have long recognised it as partial to government, and it’s well known there are wee tete a tetes so the various agencies involved in any ‘investigation’ get their stories straight.

    It’s just that they seem to think that the NIAO then reporting to the PAC on this basis represents something fair or balanced.

    Declan Gormley’s ‘missing’ testimony was the most recent example of that. On a Birmingham 6 ‘perverting the course of justice’ scale, NIAO are up there with the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Just to to state the bleedin obvious, should DRD have released that?
    The dept appears to be rather handy with the the big black marker…

  • Pigeon Toes

    Mr Priestly is fast becoming further unstuck, and his position must now be in doubt.

    Is it just particularly bad management or symptomatic of the way in which the broader civil service operates?

    *If* he loses his job over this debacle, it’s of little comfort to others caught up in the mess of this and other IRTs he’s “masterminded”

  • Is Minister Murphy on holiday? He appears to have had little to say of late.

  • I’ve collated the document images, hopefully in chronological order, and linked them to a Fred Cobain statement from 10 December 2008. Now if only DRD and CRD had learned some lessons back then ..

  • Pigeon Toes

    Like not get caught?

    Perhaps they thought that a favourable outcome had been achieved in 2008, and that similar tactics could be employed again.

  • William Markfelt

    He’s and MLA and a Minister, isn’t he?

    Life is just one long holiday.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘You work with people believing that they are being professional and have high integrity, but I have to tell the Committee that, at various points during this affair, we four witnesses have felt exposed and vulnerable’

    Lucky him, that he is a witness at all.

    Some people, Chris Mellor, Declan Gormley and many others not related to the NIW debacle, but to other NIA/NIAO ‘show trials’ have not had the opportunity of the right of reply.

    At this juncture my best hope is that he loses his job, along with some of the other key players. It doesn’t right the wrongs committed, but it restores faith in karma.

    ‘The shite that you deal out returns to you’.

  • Cynic

    To be fair, this isn’t the Minister’s fault.

    Although he carries a vicarious liability for the Department this little game is all down to the officials (so far)

  • William Markfelt

    Priestly is still hoping that NIAO will help them out of their um ‘“difficulties”.’

    Let us hope they do. Because once Priestly has gone (which now seems as inevitable as inevitability in public life exists -he still might do the indecent thing and cling on like a dingleberry) then we can all turn our laser-guided attentions to the REAL culprit in all of this, the NIAO, because their puppy dog relationship with various government departments totally undermines any pretence of ‘independence’.

    An inquiry into the NIAO and their senior staff’s relationships with their departmental counterparts now needs to be held, and we need to know just how much into each other the NIAO are and have been in the past.

    There is no independence there whatsoever, and any pretence that there is is a sham. Once we’ve got NIW, the DRD and their players signing on, then we need to address the very serious questions now beginning to formulate (although many of us have known the answers to this for years) serious questions.

    We need the NIAO closed, its staff sacked and some replacement agency, properly independent, in its place, with a new management who have no links to the past, tainted lot.

    The NIAO needs to go.

  • Pigeon Toes

    I’m also curious about and indeed somewhat heartened by the
    fact that John Dallat and Patsy Mc Glone sat on the emails that had been leaked to them, and which obviously came as a surprise to Priestly (and the CAG?) .

    Shouldn’t those normally be handed over to NIAO?

    Nice work…

  • William Markfelt

    Can we be sure the weren’t handed to the NIAO?

    My instincts would suggest that they were, yet didn’t make the cut. Someone took that decision. We need to find out who that was, and ask if it perverts the course of justice.

  • Drumlin Rock

    I wouldn’t say he is blameless just yet, he has failed to act decisively to sort the problem out, surely it is his duty to make these enquiriers not the PACs and although the sackings may have been going by his advice, any questions on the 4 new appointments is definately in his court!

  • Joseph Addison

    This province is as small as the Workers Republic of South Yorkshire. Both administrations are badly run something to do with size-The NI Civil Service incorporating Local Government is too small and just everybody just knows everybody. The whole stinking kettle of rotten fish perpetuate all this subterfuge utilising smoke and mirrors.What we need is the Civil Servants rotated around the UK and if necessary the Republic; this would give all of them very wide experience and make them all mix and thus give us a cleaner and more efficient Civil Service where sheer meritocracy is the sole driver.

  • DC

    You hit upon a valid point there – but good thing is in part at least the NI Executive outsourced the NICS’s backoffice of HR etc to a private company – HRConnect.

    So that will help in part.

  • Cynic

    Thats a little naiive Joseph.

    You are assuming that the UK Civil Service is much better in that regard. It isnt. Its a bit better on technical / managerial skills where NICS is woeful (and inbred) . But the UK SCS is also divided into various cabals (Home, Foreign, Treasury etc) where people spend their whole lives in one area that is just as incestuous as anything in NI.

  • Cynic

    No it doesn’t. If i was them and had evidence of malpractice I would be duty bound to hand it to NIAO

  • Cynic

    Very juicy …give us a clue …but dont give Mick heart failure

  • Drumlin Rock

    Joseph, this idea that NI is too small for self government of any sort is a myth, if it was an independent self governing state it would rank 148th out of 223 in the world, in between Gambia and Qatar. If we became the 51st state of the USA we would be the 39 largest population wise. I agree however that the NICS has had the game all to themselves for yrs and needs shook up.

  • William Markfelt

    Would you, Cynic? You’re looking at it from, I guess, a layman’s perspective.

    There is plenty of anecdotal evidence, much of it on these very pages, to suggest that emails routinely go ‘astray’ when it suits the agenda being set.

    I see nothing different here. Emails (which were leaked, remember) don’t appear to have been on the DRD’s list of ‘things to remember to mention’. It all seemed a bit of a shock that some of our MLAs, who now appear to be taking show trials a little more seriously, had knowledge of the contents of these.

    YOU might be duty bound. That is not to say DRD felt duty bound, or that NIAO subsequently felt duty bound.

  • Pigeon Toes

    This was received from DRD last week
    “‎”I am not in a position, to answer questions relating to what information was and was not provided for the independent investigation”.
    The question had been raised directly with the Permanent Secretary. It is therefore assumed the minion was answering on his behalf (though without the courtesy to state that).
    1. Who is in the position to answer the question? (perhaps the Permanent Secretary’s line manager)
    2.Wouldn’t one assume, and after all we’re paying for it, that
    *all* material was released to the IRT-in the interests of a full, transparent and comprehensive “investigation”.

  • William Markfelt


    The answer is waffle. What ‘was’ and what ‘wasn’t’ is just a cover all that tells us nothing.

    However, its worth reminding any MLAs who may be reading, or are recipients of leaked emails, that there is a duty to disclose ALL. If ALL is not disclosed, it contravenes the NICS code and, possibly, contravenes the law, and those same MLAs are responsible to ensure that those in contravention of the NICS code face criminal charges. I believe the wor we’re looking for here is ‘malfeasance’.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘where sheer meritocracy is the sole driver.;

    That hasn’t happened in the UK since circa 1979. What we’re in is a ‘new world order’ to create a new feudalism.

    ‘Size’ is a red herring. In 1973, in the US, the largest employer was GM, paying $17 ph with benefits. In 2010 it’s Walmart paying $6 ph without benefits.

    While that’s irrelevant to the NIW issue, it’s relevant to the concept of a ‘new feudalism’, and the NI being subjected to the same pressures, regardless of size. The entire NIW saga is simply symptomatic of a new feudalism.

  • William Markfelt

    Check the names on a public authority board against the names on the building fabric management of the same, and check the minutes where the board member declares no conflict of interest against key decisions (regarding extension of building fabric contracts) the board member proposes.

    It’s a husband and wife team.

    No conflict of interest?


  • Mrazik

    Private Eye, No 1268, page 6, bottom middle column.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Malfeasance would just about cover it ..

  • Mick Fealty

    Yep, ramifications continue. But I suspect the Eye hasn’t been reading Slugger… Might call in later on…

  • Pigeon Toes

    BTW those letters above are now in the wrong order 🙂

  • Mrazik

    Thought that. Guess they might have a few more lines in the next one…