NI Water: “It was brought to my attention, investigated and I took action.”

As well as revealing his “reservations” about police services, the Northern Ireland Regional Development Minister, Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy, also gave the Irish News his first recorded comments about the troubled NI Water Board, and his emergency appointees.  Or, rather, his first recorded comments about the questions surrounding the Independent Review Team.  From the Irish News

Mr Murphy said he believed people with an “axe to grind” were querying the inquiry.

“What I am aware of is there has been a campaign to attack the integrity of the people who brought these issues to our attention or investigated them. Nobody has ever challenged there was wrongdoing going on but it’s an attempt to undo that by shooting the messenger.

“It has now recruited political advocates and what their motivation is, is something they need to answer.”

Adds  In contrast to the actual Minister in the Irish News, here’s what the Department of Regional Development told the News Letter

When asked how Mr Priestly had acquired Mr Dixon’s letter a full day ahead of its delivery to the committee and why he then sent it to the Audit Office, which is independent of government, DRD said in a statement: “Matters relating to the IRT (Independent Review Team) which found 73 cases where £28.4million of NI Water contracts were awarded without competitive processes are subject to the scrutiny of the assembly PAC.

Until the PAC publishes its report in the autumn it would be inappropriate for the minister or the department to comment further at this time.” [added emphasis]

, , , , , ,

  • Pigeon Toes

    “Mr Murphy said he believed people with an “axe to grind” were querying the inquiry.”

    The sacked NEDs perhaps?

  • “What I am aware of is there has been a campaign to attack the integrity of the people who brought these issues to our attention”

    This is all a little reminiscent of the £55, 000 the DRD was prepared to spend towards the ‘shooting of the messenger/messengers’ who queried certain shenanigans associated with the Rathlin ferry saga. Unfortunately for the DRD the so called independent report leaks like a sieve and the Committee for Regional Development is still waiting for the Minister to allow them to pass critical judgement.

    Keep up the good work, Mick and Pete. I understand UTV will soon have a programme ready for broadcasting and some MLAs appear to be well nourished on a diet of leaks 😉

  • All manner of things are being queried, not just the inquiry. Let’s hope the powers that be resist the temptation to sacrifice any more scapegoats.

  • Maybe he’s taken a leak sorry leaf out of the Pope having a go at the Belgians to shift the responsibility… just sayin’

  • Pigeon Toes

    When the actions and integrity of the Permanent Secretary and his relationship with NIAO are being questioned, then I think Mr Murphy is missing the point somewhat.

  • Pigeon Toes
  • Pete Baker

    Adds In contrast to the actual Minister in the Irish News, here’s what the Department of Regional Development told the News Letter

    When asked how Mr Priestly had acquired Mr Dixon’s letter a full day ahead of its delivery to the committee and why he then sent it to the Audit Office, which is independent of government, DRD said in a statement: “Matters relating to the IRT (Independent Review Team) which found 73 cases where £28.4million of NI Water contracts were awarded without competitive processes are subject to the scrutiny of the assembly PAC.

    Until the PAC publishes its report in the autumn it would be inappropriate for the minister or the department to comment further at this time.” [added emphasis]

  • Pigeon Toes

    “Matters relating to the IRT (Independent Review Team) which found 73 cases where £28.4million of NI Water contracts were awarded without competitive processes are subject to the scrutiny of the assembly PAC”

    At least the department has acknowledged the right of PAC members to ask the hard questions, unlike Mr Murphy
    “It has now recruited political advocates and what their motivation is, is something they need to answer.”

    This gets more embarrassing for the department and Mr Murphy by the day.

  • Mick Fealty

    Excellent summation Pete. And some very apposite questions from the News Letter on this. I hope some previously silent members of the PAC are taking note of these issues.

  • Cynic

    I will tell Mr Murphy what my motivation is.

    I hate to see MY money as a taxpayer poured down a drain by incompetent Executive Departments and I believe that the ‘resolute action’ taken in this case stinks of a cover up of the incompetence of others. I therefore want to those responsible held to account… something he seems keen to avoid.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘Mr Murphy said he believed people with an “axe to grind” were querying the inquiry.’

    How embarrassing for him.

    Now, anyone who doesn’t subscribe to this corrupt, quasi-totalitarian ‘government’ we endure daily, with its very own departmental ‘party members’ enjoying their own variant of a Black Sea dacha, is now sneered at and dismissed as some sort of NIA ‘dissident’ for daring to question the unquestionable actions of this self serving cabal of buffoons and idiots.

    It can’t be long now until they begin airbrushing NIA/departmental ‘history’, and managing to disappear any criticism of Uncle Pete and Uncle Marty.

  • Easi-T

    Nevin- on the UTV programme on the ‘independence’ of the IRT – I believe it is to be aired on Monday night. An uncomfortable weekend ahead for MacKenzie, Priestly et al …

  • William Markfelt

    Added emphasis, Pete?

    Shouldn’t this be in CAPITAL LETTERS?

    You could always claim your finger hit the shift button by accident.

    It would rather look, again, like the DRD is attempting to steer matters, independently of the Minister, just as they attempted to steer matters relating to the NIAO.

    But if they’re going to do that, shouldn’t they be advising the minister not to make statements about ‘people with an axe to grind’.

    I mean, Jesus, the DRD seem incapable of even getting their own minister to sing off the same hymnsheet. What chance have they got with *cough* ‘independent NIAO who they can’t possibly influence (except through typing errors)?

  • We need a Malcolm Tucker to sort out this ‘disconnect’ between the Minister and the DRD minion who communicated with the News Letter. Perhaps the Minister has already obliged!!

  • redhugh78

    Yes, excellent summation Pete, some day one of your spiffing posts is going to bring down those wretched shinners
    When that glorious day comes then we can maybe discuss things like the murder of a 12year old girl by a british soldier subsequently covered up.

  • Cynic

    So the RUC investigate, recommend prosecution, he’s prosecuted and acquitted, then HET reinvestigate and say RUC was thorough and right …so it’s a cover up?

    Have HRT ceased to be saints and turned into sinners? Quelle suprise!!!

  • Cynic

    PS i wonder has there been any progress in the investigation into the murder of Paul Quinn.

    That would be the murder where Mr Murphy is reported to have said:

    “I have spoken to the IRA in his area and I am satisfied with the assurances they gave me, very solid assurances, that they weren’t involved in his death,”

    but of course the IMC found that

    “Amongst those involved were people who had in various ways been associated with the PIRA at a local
    level, including as members of the organisation. Some of these people were accustomed over a substantial period of time to exercising considerable local influence, collectively and individually. This would have led such people to expect what they would consider as appropriate respect from others and to being able to undertake their activities –
    including criminal ones – without interference”

    So PIRA ‘corporately’ didn’t murder Mr Quinn but PIRA members did because he refsued to give them the respect they thought was due to them. So, in Conor’s world, that’s alright then.

    PPS Conor – doesn’t that strike you as

    “My own personal view is that organisations like that – like police forces, armies – are very autocratic organisations and it’s not something that I would encourage someone to be part of.”

    So are you now telling people that they were misled and should never hacve joined PIRA? and in your own local Brigade? Tish tish

  • Pigeon Toes

    “It was brought to my attention, investigated and I took action.”

    All by yourself Mr Murphy?

    No discussion or recommendations from The Perm Sec, based on that report?

    Who set the TOR?

    So much for that clear blue water then…

  • Pigeon Toes

    Succinctly put…

  • Thanks, Easi-T, the DRD has been discommoded for more than two years now thanks to its dubious procurement practices and the NIAO looks more like a fig leaf than an independent body holding public bodies to account.

  • Pigeon Toes

    I take it was Mr Murphy who said this?

  • Pigeon Toes

    “He alleged that there was a campaign to attack the integrity of consultants brought in by the department to probe events at NI Water.
    Their report was used by Mr Murphy to explain his sacking of four NI Water non-executive directors.”

  • Pigeon Toes

    “In a brief statement to the News Letter yesterday, DRD said: “The minister has full confidence in his permanent secretary”

    Ah well, thats alright then 😉

  • funnyoldworld

    Mr Murphy is illustrating that unlike McKenzie at NIW his political antenna has not “gone up” about what is happening around him.
    By now you think someone(anyone!) would have taken him aside and suggested to get as far away as possible from Priestley and his mates as quickly as possible.

    Gerry Loughran will show him how how a master of his craft does it!

    His piece yesterday in the Irish News had the same convincing tone as the ” We don’t talk to terrorists” guff that is put out up to the day they announce a deal is done and all’s well!

    What would you bet he or his acolytes are talking to one of the “people with an axe to grind” to try and find an acceptable way out of this mess?

  • Pigeon Toes

    What would you bet he or his acolytes are talking to one of the “people with an axe to grind” to try and find an acceptable way out of this mess?”

    Nope, because these “people with an axe to grind”, might well “tout” about such approaches.

  • Pigeon Toes

    It’s very easy for DRD and the Minister to dig their heels in, should these “people” wish to pursue a legal challenge.

    After all, the Department and Minister have the (publicly paid for) “people with an axe to grind” “people with an axe to grind” resources to defend themselves against any civil action.

    Which is why the UTV programme is so important.

  • Pigeon Toes

    It’s very easy for DRD and the Minister to dig their heels in, should these “people” wish to pursue a legal challenge.

    After all, the Department and Minister have the (publicly paid for) resources to defend themselves against any civil action.

    Which is why the UTV programme is so important.

  • Pete, in that emergency appointees link did you not consider highlighting “All appointments are made on merit and political activity plays no part in the selection process”? For example, in light of Priestly’s observation about NI being a small place, cronyism could well have played a part.

  • Pigeon Toes

    There are certainly some intriguing “family trees”.
    Now if only we knew someone with an interest in such things 😉

  • William Markfelt

    “The minister has full confidence in his permanent secretary”

    I assume this press release was presented to the Minister as a fait accompli, in capital letters.

  • redhugh78

    I wonder?
    but unlike Majella O Hare, I’m sure we’ll get several more blogs in addition to the previous ones on Slugger telling us all about it.

  • Mick Fealty

    So tell me Red, what on earth has the killing of Majella O’Hare got to do with the shenanigans at NI Water?

  • William Markfelt

    What is emerging (emerged long ago, if truth be told) is that there’s some sort of culture within the entire machinery of NI ‘government’ that alludes to ‘we say it’s so, which makes it so’.

    The IRT team was independent, and that’s what we say, so there you are.

    Declan Gormley and others fucked up, and that’s what we say, so there you are.

    This is only a story because people have an axe to grind, and that’s what we say, so there you.

    And that same culture of bullying lies, half-truths, dishonesty, corruption and what have you into life permeates the entire machinery of ‘government’. And it appears that those involved have forgotten or maybe never knew or understood, the fundamentals of proper, true, accountable, transparent government. Perhaps not really surprising, since so many of spent many years walking the tightrope of what was legal and illegal. So when we come to an issue like this, or many others where individuals have been vilified and practically destroyed as a result of the parliamentary farce we endure day in, day out, it’s maybe not that surprising to find that they’ve been walking on the wild side so long that they think they have some divine right to bully on through their own unique vision, cataracts and glaucoma, of what represents democracy.

    Stepping out too long with the Provos or the fucking Third Force Trumpton militia that the lies come naturally. Far too familiar with the capacity to talk shite knowing full well that there’ll be another loyalist/Provo/Crown Force collusion atrocity story along in a moment to bury the crap they presented as ‘the facts’ and ‘the truth’.

    But it doesn’t work like that anymore. ‘Big news stories’ no longer come along to bury the lies. The lies ARE the ‘big news stories’. The lies told by the politicians, the departmental figures, the suits who merrily rode a self-serving gravy train for years knowing that their own indiscretions in whatever form rarely, if ever, emerged because ‘last night, another soldier’ would get top billing.

    And now it’s rabbit in the headlights time. Spineless, gormless twats now scurrying around, not sure what to do that the light has settled on them, and each turn, each movement, only brings them closer to the wheels.

    I expect it of politicians. It’s what they do. It’s what they do in NI, GB, the RoI, America, Europe, council chambers up and down this septic isle-let.

    I’m more shocked and surprised that it’s the civil servants and government agencies who appear to be driving the bullying culture. We’re in Sir Humphrey territory, and make no mistake. Utterly clueless politicians (who would still be equally clueless in manual labour, better suited to their talents) being strung along by the Sir Humphreys of the DRD, DoE, DoEd, with political influence and power effectively DOA.

    Each department being run as a private fiefdom, and each revelation in this and other sagas demonstrating that it’s who you know. It’s self evident that what you know is entirely irrelevant to running a civil service department.

    Those involved need to forget the idea that it’s people with an axe to grind and get used to the idea that stories like this are never going to go away, you know?

  • Pigeon Toes

    “The UTV Live Tonight Special, which is understood to be scheduled for broadcast on Monday evening, includes an interview with Mr Murphy and other individuals who are central to the affair.”

    Now to try and get UTV from Siberia…

  • William Markfelt

    Any word on whether or not those ‘central to the affair’ were given editorial veto? Or are being given copies prior to broadcast?

    I predict Murphy will stonewall, and Priestly and McKenzie will issue statements citing it being sort of sub-judice, in the context of the PAC, so no comment right now.

    Maskey may appear to tell us what a great job PAC are doing.

    Maybe Dallat or Purvis will offer mild-ish criticism of the entire charade, and we’ll all be none the wiser on Tuesday morning.

    UTV Live Tonight? Like being savaged by a dead sheep.

  • Pigeon Toes

    It will be interesting though if some of those sacked NEDs participate, and if any other leaked emails make it through.

  • William Markfelt

    I agree, PT, that the words of the NEDs would be very, very interesting. Unfortunately, within the context of the way the programme is being laid out, it rather looks as though their contributions will be marginal.

    An entire programme dedicated to Chris Mellor, Declan Gormley and the others would be a more interesting programme right now, without any ‘counter balancing’ arguments, spin and lies being put by the bad guys.

    In other news:

    Eric Pickles announces the ending of the Audit Commission. I wonder if Mr. Pickles would be interested to hear about growing criticism of the NIAO, and be prepared to act accordingly?

  • William Markfelt

    This was intended to be a response to PT’s 13/08, 7.06pm posting.

  • William Markfelt

    Q: Why are all the key players in the NIW saga like a rolled up hedgehog?

    A: Because no matter how you look at it, all you see are pricks.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “Stormont’s powerful PAC is investigating Mr Murphy’s unprecedented decision to remove all but one of the water utility’s non-executive directors and replace them with former Sinn Fein councillor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, trade unionist Peter Bunting, retired civil servant Lawson McDonald and former Deloitte partner Kevin Steele as interim directors.”

    For a start was Mr Steele not a director of Northern Ireland Electricity?
    No mention of that, and er other “interesting” little relationships there.

  • William Markfelt

    It is illegal to criticise those c***s in the EU under the 1999 ruling of the European court of “Justice”, case number c274/99. (and Mick, if you feel the heat of that sentence, you have my email address on file, I suspect, and yahoo have my ISP, and my ISP has my home address, so just feel free to pass it on to the fascist bastards and I’ll take my chances).

    When I read about local politicians blabbering on about people with an ‘axe to grind’, I suspect that, locally, we’re on a slippery slope to an NIA equivalent of case number c274/99.

    Under this shower of shite, it can’t be long until it becomes illegal to criticise the NIA, MLAs, the DRD or the NIAO. Already there is evidence, from several posters on this board, that the various agencies will do all they can (quite different from ‘all in their power’, as it’s wholly obvious that they will undertake processes which are not within their actual legal power, but bully matters through on the hope that Joe Public doesn’t, can’t, understand the minutiae of the processes involved) to stitch various people up. NIW non executive directors, legitimate (and honest) business folk, people with genuine concerns about the way in which ferry tenders are handled, etc, etc, etc.

    As things stand, events give rise to the perception that government agencies will be economical with the truth, to an alarming degree, in order to force through their iron-fist edicts. Just sack the NEDs, and worry about the legalities later. And then commence with a propaganda exercise in diminishing genuine concerns regarding ineptitude, corruption and croneyism as ‘people with an axe to grind’.

    Are you for real, Minister Murphy?

    It would be a fucking laugh if many of the clowns involved didn’t have a long and less than sparkling association with the Trumpton militias and now have the gall, the cheek, the brass neck and the audacity to challenge those who challenge their collective failures as politicians and human beings.

    If we’re looking for examples of moral rectitude, we aren’t starting at Stormont, are we?

    I reckon there’s about 1.4999m people in NI who have an axe to grind against these pillocks, and it’s worth making the point before they actually begin to legislate against criticism of their flat-earth politics and policies.

    In a parallel universe, right now, there’s a consocionationalist regime being put to the sword in a referendum that is demonstrating a jaw-dropping level of cross-community support. Maybe we should try it in this universe too. I’m feeling quite nostalgic for the days of the Prince of Darkness and his wee dog. Plus he was cheaper by many million pounds.

    The TUV might contain more dicks than a YMCA shower block, but it might actually be nice to have an ‘official opposition’ in contrast to the current exercise in buffoonery, peopled by buffoons.

  • William Markfelt

    I’ve been reading up on the scrapping of the Audit Commission with great interest, as Eric Pickles makes the valid point that its services ‘can be done in a competitive environment, drawing on professional audit expertise across the country. These proposed changes go hand in hand with plans to create an army of armchair auditors – local people able to hold local bodies to account for the way their tax pounds are spent and what that money is delivering.” (this taken from the Guardian’s website).

    Three points, extrapolated to an NI and NIW context.

    1. The NIAO ploughs the very same furrow as the Audit Commission, and the same criticisms are applicable. It is arguable that firms of accountants could do the job cheaper and better, since there is currently no competitive tendering process for the NIAO’s services.

    2. Yet the NIAO are a core element of the NIW saga, and complicit in what appears to be an attempt to now ‘cover up’ failings of the DRD in every aspect of the NIW debacle. They don’t appear to have picked up on ‘uncompetitive tendering processes’ while signing off NIW’s accounts in previous years, and are increasingly being seen as the DRD Secretary’s lapdog, undermining any feeble attempts for them to wail ‘independence’. Their role must very much come under scrutiny in the Public Inquiry that we now expect to take place. It’s ironic that the unaccountable, regarding the procurement of their services, can pass judgement on an issue of alleged uncompetitive tendering processes.

    3. Minister Murphy would do well to pay particular attention to Eric Pickles desire to see ‘armchair auditors’. That’s you and me. Where people ‘with an axe to grind’ can challenge the waste AND the ineptitude of the people creating the waste.

    I welcome the announcement that the Audit Commission is to come to an end, but am slightly disheartened by the suggestion that its staff will be ‘redeployed’. Surely, as labour is the single biggest cost, how much will actually be saved? Wouldn’t it be better to simply throw these pampered public servants onto the dole? And wouldn’t it make sense to ensure the same fate awaits those in the NIAO, thereby saving us, people with an axe to grind, several million a year?

  • William Markfelt

    ‘Northern Ireland regional development minister Conor Murphy has appointed four new interim non-executive directors to the board of Northern Ireland Water to replace those sacked over procurement practices earlier this year.
    The new board members, Peter Bunting, Lawson McDonald, Mairtin O Muilleoir and Kevin Steele, have been appointed for an initial period of up to nine months whilst the long-term governance of water and sewerage is re-examined and a permanent appointment process takes place.
    The minister said: “Over the next while, I will re-examine the current governance arrangements of NIW and decide how best to manage these vital public services in the long-term future and within full public ownership.
    “Between them, the new interim board members have a great depth and breadth of experience which will enable them to meet the challenge of their future roles. Following the publication of the Independent Review Team’s Report it is important to restore the public’s confidence in NIW and I believe that these appointments represent a significant step in that direction.”‘ (lifted out of a publication that wouldn’t be out of place on ‘Have I got news for you’, the marvellous and essential read that is ‘Utility Week’)

    My question is, just how ‘interim’ are they when Minister Murphy is already outlining the challenges they face in the future?

    I wonder if ‘conversations with a purpose’ have already taken place to establish their longer term availability.

  • William, the behaviour of the Minister and the Permanent Secretary ought to be examined in the context of the Ministerial Code and the Civil Service Code respectively.

    For example, consider these phrases from the Ministerial Code: “to promote the interests of the whole community represented in the Northern Ireland Assembly towards the goal of a shared future” and “nor use the opportunity of public service to promote their private interests”.

    Opportunities for cronyism would appear to be rife thanks to the inability of our elected representatives to consistently hold Ministers and Mandarins to account.

  • William Markfelt

    Commenting on the entirely stupid ‘Parades and Assemblies Bill’, in the Belfast Telegraph and on this site, the always readable Eamonn McCann comes off with a phrase (related to draconian powers.) that will always be reusable in the context of the ongoing NIW saga.

    And that is ‘the casual incompetence that comes from a guaranteed position in government.’

    Yes, that certainly can be applied, in respect of the Minister, DRD, NIW, NIAO and PAC.

  • “a great depth and breadth of experience”

    Just how much of it is relevant to the governance of a public utility, in particular one handling water and sewage?

    “it is important to restore the public’s confidence in NIW”

    And what about the public’s lack of confidence in the Executive, the Assembly Committees and the Department for Regional Development? Their behaviour leaves a bad taste in the mouth, one much worse than a glass of NIW’s finest.

  • William, the old phrase ‘lions led by donkeys’ comes to mind but in the case of Dormant ‘mice led by rats’ might be more apt.

  • William Markfelt

    Interests of the whole community?

    It would appear that the Minister can disregard Equal Opportunity legislation when appointing his mates. Would NED appointments be subject to Equal Opportunities legislation, do you know?

    Women make up 50% of the population, yet they are unrepresented in the current crap of NEDs (The previous NEDs did have female representation).

    Perhaps the patriarchal set-up of the NIW board suggests they feel that women needn’t concern their pretty little heads about the difficult task of fucking up a public utility, and should confine their water interests to the sink.

    Hopefully, a female member of Minister Murphy’s party will engage him with the party’s policies on women as a matter of some urgency.

  • William Markfelt

    Looking at the names of the ‘interim’ NEDs, I would certainly agree that, in respect of talking sewage, the appointees certainly have a great depth and breadth of experience.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘Mr Murphy’s unprecedented decision to remove all but one of the water utility’s non-executive directors’

    Perhaps someone can explain to me why one NED was retained. Because I genuinely can’t recall the explanation that made him unique.

    Did he know about the tendering process, thereby demonstrating how much more savvy than the ones who failed to act on a matter they knew nothing of?

    If he did, why didn’t he tell his fellow NEDs?

    If he didn’t, isn’t he in exactly the same position as the NEDs who were sacked?

    Has the minister explained exactly why one NED was retained, and what the differences in knowledge/ignorance there were that made him a special case?

  • Pigeon Toes

    Apparently he didn’t have the same “attitude problem” and er undertook (in writing) to follow the recommendations of the IRT, thus diminishing his “independent ” as a NED.

    “Yes men”?

  • Pigeon Toes


  • Pigeon Toes

    Has anyone checked the IRT’s fees for Value For Money?

    In one particular instance, one member seemed to be playing golf in Spain for most of the time, and another only appeared in person once with one set of “witnesses” (Though he may have already been in NI as a DFP paid expert witness)

  • Pigeon Toes

    In Crayon

  • William, equality features in the Minister’s Pledge of Office:

    “to serve all the people of Northern Ireland equally, and to act in accordance with the general obligations on government to promote equality and prevent discrimination”

    The Minister is also obligated to ‘operate in a way conducive to promoting good community relations and equality of treatment’.

    He is also to, in particular note ‘the responsibilities of the First Minister and deputy First Minister include standards in public life, machinery of government (including the Ministerial Code), public appointments policy, EU issues, economic policy, human rights, and equality”.

    However, the operation of the mutual veto probably gives a DUP or a SF minister the freedom to run a department as if it were a party/personal fiefdom.

    To place NI now either exclusively in a UK or an ‘island of Ireland’ context would seem to me to be a clear breach of the letter and spirit of the 1998 Agreement. This principle doesn’t just apply to Ministers and Mandarins, IMO it would also apply to bodies whose boards contain misisterial nominees and/or are in receipt of significant public funds.

    I wonder if UTV will explore many of these issues on Monday evening. IMO the great danger is that the spotlight will be too narrowly focussed and ‘justice’ will not be done.

  • Pigeon Toes
    “As speculation mounts over what has been uncovered by a UTV investigation into the affair, Paul Maskey, who chairs the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), said in a statement yesterday that it would be “wrong” for him to comment on the affair while the committee continued to investigate.

    It is understood that UTV has obtained a substantial volume of documentary evidence which will raise questions about regional development minister Conor Murphy’s decision to fire all but one of NI Water’s non-executive directors in March.”

  • There’s probably enough material to do a second programme on the appointment of the new ‘interim’ NEDs. A working title could be ‘Conversations With A Purpose” or ‘New York New West Belfast’.

  • “However, the documentary – to be broadcast on Monday night – is also expected to raise issues which go to the heart of government in Northern Ireland.” … News Letter link

    About time too.

  • William Markfelt

    Ah, right. So now in order to serve as an independent voice on a quango, it’s important to not show attitude and, in fact, simply brown-nose the board, department, IRT, Minister?

    OK. And which part of totalitarianism are people not quite getting here? Or at least authoritarianism. I’m tempted to start my very own blog to highlight this sort of tripe we endure day and daily. ‘Authoritarian NIA’ has a nice ring to it. Perhaps authoritariaNIA.

    Because that’s exactly the sort of ‘government’ we seem to have had appointed on our behalf. No official opposition. Party stooges unelected to positions. A feeling of there being an ‘inner circle’ to which the great unwashed are excluded.

    And, disappointingly in the case of Minister Murphy, the ‘party of the people’ apparently willing to rubber stamp the (interim) appointments of the usual group of suspects, all of whom appear to be crawling around on some sort of public sector spider’s web, moving from one place to another in order to cover themselves in a lack of glory, at great expense, before moving on.

    I’m not getting any great sense of an ‘Ireland of Equals’ where the appointment of stooge NEDs are concerned.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “heart of government in Northern Ireland.”
    It has one?

  • “Party stooges”

    Well, we’ve probably had a spate of SpAds who would fit that description – with their wellies labelled either L or R.

  • William Markfelt

    The heart of the government of Northern Ireland.

    So we’ve moved from the Prince of Darkness, to all of us being stake holders, in a few easy steps.

    If only someone could hammer the stake in before sunrise, everything might be OK.

  • William Markfelt

    It’s something of a change of face for Maskey to be coy in advance of ‘investigative’ reports. It’s not a line he has always adopted in his role as PAC Chairman.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “Meanwhile, I hear the SDLP-leaning press in Belfast is having another pop at the Board of NI Water. Funny how when it was their pals sitting on the boards of state agencies during the years of warfare that they never raised a peep about their compensation. Surely not sour grapes from those who once could dictate who served — and who didn’t serve — on boards; needless to say ability didn’t figure as highly as loyalty to the Bishop and to the mandarins in Stormont to secure such appointments. Indeed, in nationalist areas in the eighties, it wasn’t only who was ‘allowed’ to serve on boards, but this self-styled Catholic elite teamed up with the Brits to freeze out republicans from jobs and community posts.

    Funny how times change. Nowadays, thank God, those appointed to public office have to prove their worth — a challenge I’m up to as a director of NI Water.”

    It also helps I suppose if they all now each other very well…

  • “I hear the SDLP-leaning press in Belfast ..”

    Who is MÓM wagging the finger at? The Irish News? The News Letter? The Belfast Telegraph? Or maybe Slugger O’Toole?

    “self-styled Catholic elite teamed up with the Brits”

    Surely he’s not having a dig at Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. Aren’t they still ‘good republicans’?

    “those who once could dictate who served — and who didn’t serve — on boards”

    Don’t Ministers still have/exercise that power?

  • Pigeon Toes

    .”Nowadays, thank God, those appointed to public office have to prove their worth — a challenge I’m up to as a director of NI Water.”
    Arrogant? Foolish?

  • William Markfelt

    ‘who served — and who didn’t serve ‘

    Wasn’t that accusation laid against another SF member of the PAC a few years back? The fella with the comedy moustache whose name escapes me right now. I seem to recall debates where he was regularly referred to as ‘the conscientious objector’.

  • William Markfelt

    “self-styled Catholic elite’

    Never mind Catholicism. Let’s look at the self-styled elite.

    Paisley 1

    Paisley 2

    Beggs 1

    Beggs 2

    Robinson 1

    Robinson 2

    Maskey 1

    Maskey 2.

    I’d mention the Fibonacci Sequins (sic), but our MLAs would think of an ostentatiously dressed gay man called Valentino sitting at a piano. (if you’re an MLA reading this, get a small child to explain that sentence to you).

    And talking of ‘significant numbers’, in Buddhism, the number 108 (get a small child to explain it you you if you’re an MLA) is the number of sins.

  • William Markfelt

    Oh! I almost forgot.

    In the Chinese novel the WATER Margin, set in the Song Dynasty, a period of well defined social elites, there are 108 outlaws.

    Towards the end of the book, the outlaws attack the rebels.

    Maybe they had an axe to grind?

    Anyway, at the end of the book the outlaw band are dissolved.

    I’m not sure if the modern day equivalent is a large bath of hydrochloric acid on Prince of Wales Avenue, but I live in hope.

    If you’re an MLA, you know the drill regarding a simple explanation.

  • Pigeon Toes

    I was thinking more government than heart. But now that you mention it…:-)

  • William Markfelt

    And with a musical hat on, it’s worth pointing you all in the direction of Chan Xuan’s ‘Water Marginalised’ album, loosely based on the above book.

    A jailbird travels in hope of joining the outlaws, only to find they’ve all taken jobs in the ruling party.

    I wish I was making this stuff up. 🙂

  • Mitchel McLaughlin, sometime refrigeration engineer, formerly had a thin mufty.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Do Neds not have to sign “the Official Secrets Act”?

    Odd if they didn’t, and makes O’ Mulleoir comments all the more curious….

  • magnus

    On past form I’m not expecting much from the UTV live special on Monday but there’s always hope. That being the case and in the sure knowledge that these guys will be editing away right up to the last why not give them a hand and supply some soundbite questions , suitably cross referenced to allow usage.

  • William Markfelt

    UTV are a soft target (and I’ve already had a pot shot myself to that effect) because it’s more about light entertainment than anything else..

    I would say it’s more important that they are covering the story at all, because NIW and the DRD have been getting a relatively easy ride from the media over this affair. And DRD/NIW have been able to press manage it to some extent. Not very well, it must be said, Minister Murphy needs to think about sacking the spin-doctors, but press managing it nonetheless.

    UTV will trail the programme in their main bulletin. They will show the programme. There will probably be a response from at least some of the main players involved on Tuesday, by which time the local inkies may have actually reviewed it, or reported it. And then we’ll have responses to responses (at a much lower level) on Wednesday. So this story isn’t going to go away, you know, until at least mid-week.

    I’d question the timing, however. Personally I’d have made a pitch to hold this from broadcast until the moment that the NIA/PAC reconvene, just to stick the boot in at a more appropriate moment. What effect the programme will have will have been diminished by the beginning of October.

    But we’re in for a week where the DRD/NIW can’t control the story, and the wheels of their arguments begin to fall off.

    I’m sure that UTV are desperate to get some jaw-dropping revelations that would royally screw some of the players, since they’re lagging behind in the ‘local scoop’ stakes. BBC got the drop on them with Irisgate. This can’t compete (no sex) but it could have equally wide repercussions if they do it right.

    The right revelations or proof of dirty deeds or dodgy deeds, and it could be that Maskey is forced to reconvene PAC almost immediately. That’s the best possible scenario.

    There have been some interesting comments on the matter of blogging v MSM elsewhere on this site, and I think that we’re about to see some evidence of bloggers/commentators driving this story, rather than it being controlled in a straight lined organisation v usual media outlets direction. It’s wholly possible that, this week, bloggers can, in a small way, steer it to places that DRD/NIW don’t want.

    Soundbite questions? I think the various pages on Sluggers are full to overflowing with them.

    Here’s mine:

    Minister Murphy/Mr. Preistly/Mr. McKenzie/Auditor General, do any of you have any intention of resigning over your numerous, repeated and compounded failures in the NIW debacle? Will any of you now accept the perception that, when it comes to cosy relationships between various persons and bodies, the general public are correct in coming to the belief that collusion is not an illusion?

  • William, I think you’ve mentioned most of the key players in the DRD/NIW fiasco but it’s possible some may be on holiday during August. As you say there’s not been a whiff of sex but one of cronyism could give the story MSM legs. There’s been quite a bit of loose talk by MÓM which will have created additional problems for Minister Murphy, particularly in relation to the appointment of the new NEDs.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Here is the draft role and person specification from those 2008 appointments

    “Termination of Appointment

    An appointment may be terminated if at any time the individual appointed is considered unfit to continue in office or is incapable of performing their duties.

    Official Secrets Act

    The provisions of the Official Secrets Acts 1911 to 1989 apply to public appointees. Unauthorised disclosure of any information gained in the course of an appointment, for its use by an appointee or others for personal gain or advancement could result in the appointment being terminated early or even criminal prosecution.”

  • Pigeon Toes

    “Conflict of Interest and Confidentiality Arrangements

    Any person appointed must declare any personal or business interests which may, or may be perceived to; influence their judgement when performing their duties as a non-executive director. Failure to do so could lead to the appointment being terminated.

    Conflict of Interest
    Board Appointments require the highest standards of propriety, involving impartiality, integrity and objectivity, in relation to the stewardship of funds and the oversight and management of all related activities. This means that any private, voluntary, charitable or political interest which might be material and relevant to the work of the body concerned should be declared.

    There is always the possibility for real or perceived conflicts of interest to arise. Both are a problem, as the perceived inference of a conflict may, on occasions, be as damaging as the existence of a real conflict. It is important, therefore, that candidates consider their own circumstances when applying for these appointments and identify any potential conflicts of interest, whether real or perceived. Information which might be relevant could include for example financial interests or share ownership, or membership of some societies or organisations. All applicants must therefore complete the relevant section on the application form (Section 9). Any information given in this section will be treated in confidence. Further guidance is provided in the enclosed booklets – ‘OCPANI Complaints and Conflict of Interest: Information Guidance’ and ‘Probity and Conflicts of Interest: Guidance for Candidates’. ”


  • William Markfelt

    ‘An appointment may be terminated if at any time the individual appointed is considered unfit to continue in office or is incapable of performing their duties.’

    Elvis is leaving the building?

  • William Markfelt

    ‘This means that any private, voluntary, charitable or political interest which might be material and relevant to the work of the body concerned should be declared.’

    I know one public body whose employees have a regular Friday afternoon golf match with favoured contractors.

    Some people, naming no names, would prefer to stick hot needles into their own eyes rather than pick up some golf clubs. Never mind life after death, or life before death, golf always struck me as being death before death.

    Of course, certain contractors who DID participate always swore by the amount of work it generated, and some public body employees always swore by the cheapness of the round they played.

  • magnus

    Accepting for argument’s sake the Minister’s reasons for action; why was the chair of the committee charged with monitoring the control environment not sacked? Every chair of every committee was sacked save the chair of the Audit Committee Don Price, even the other non executive members of the Audit Committee were sacked. What saved Don Price from the firing line? And given this unique vote of Ministerial confidence why has the Minister then felt it necessary to insist on a senior Departmental officer attending every future Audit Committee meeting. Indeed will Don Price be allowed to remain chair of the Audit Committee by his new non executive colleagues? If he does remain as chair there is an obvious conflict of interest. If not his position as a non executive director is untenable following what amounts to a vote of no confidence by his fellow members.

  • William Markfelt

    I’m beginning to wonder how much of the NIW affair is agenda driven. Actually, it’s ALL agenda driven, but I mean driven to a specific agenda as a result of a report the Utilities Regulator, Iain Osborne, laid on NIW.

    Reading through that, it rather reads as though NIW were given an almost impossible task on their finances over the next three years, and NIW were getting pouty over the whole thing.

    Then, as if by magic, almost contemporaneously, a ‘crisis’ emerges. Despite internal audit giving the accounts a clean bill of health, and KPMG (as opposed to the NIAO, as I previously thought) also signing off their accounts, this magical issue regarding procurement practices has emerged. Granted, neither internal audit or KPMG might have been looking into procurement practices but NIAO certainly did, and there was, until recently no reference to their being a ‘problem’ regarding procurement.

    A cosy little tete a tete with NIAO expected to deliver a VFM report at Christmas 2008. If the NIAO delivered this, they’re keeping it well hidden on their website. It would interesting to read that and see if NIAO actually unearthed any VFM issues regarding procurement, something that should very much have been on their ‘to do’ list.

    Yet no mention of it?

    Only mention of it when McKenzie magically unearths it?

    It couldn’t be that this is an attempt to head off the injuns at the pass, could it?

    The way I see it, creating a crisis out of nothing (and thus far we only seem to be getting the feeling that McKenzie, and only McKenzie, saw something amiss, but that this crisis was intended for somewhere on down the line.

    When NIW fail to meet criteria set by the Utilities Regulator, it’s always useful to have a little crisis set aside, so that the criticisms Mr. Osborne (or his successor) makes of their failures to meet efficiency targets can be offset by the production of this crisis.

    ‘Well, we feel we’d have met the targets set by the Utilities Regulator had it not been for the crisis caused by inefficient NEDs, and the fallout from that’.

    A bit of creative accounting on the costs accrued by the various investigations and action plans, and Bob’s your Uncle or Fanny’s your aunt, the costs pretty much equal the sum by which NIW fail to meet their targets.

    After all, many of those involved have a vested personal interest in NIW continuing as is, as opposed to one of the possible floated alternatives, a mutual company.

    And there’s no harm in positioning yourself as a a problem hunter, either. It looks good on the CV when you’re having to apply for your own job.

  • William Markfelt

    More from O’Muilleoir.

    ‘As for NI Water, it’s clear that there’s some fine work going on but that we have a tough road ahead to make it the brilliant organisation we wish it to be. That said, there are two things which really give me heart:
    1. We have the cleanest and best quality water in Ireland (that’s not boosterism but fact based on evidence) at a time when the Irish capital is fretting over its water supply. Dublin water supplies, the Irish Times tells us, are on a knife-edge with no reserves. Fortunately, investment of £1m per week by NI Water since Conor Murphy became Department for Regional Development minister means we also have secure and plentiful supplies of the best water in the country.
    2. For 15 years, I’ve been calling for one of our big state bodies to locate right in the heart of one of our areas of need — to send out the message that these are great areas in which to work, play and live. And a state body, employing over 1,000 people and with an annual turnover of around £360m has just done that: NI Water. The organisation has pulled out of its expensive city centre offices, scrapped plans for a new swish office block down at the docks, and instead relocated all its ‘head office’ people to Westland House which sits on a 58-acre site in the very heart of North Belfast. Its neighbours are the communities of Cavehill and Westland and (on three sides) the Cliftonville Golf Club (on a course which once belonged to the Belfast Water Commissioners). In the time ahead, I hope we can get to know the communities around us better and, as a good neighbour, do our bit to support their efforts to build community and bolster peace in an area which has known more than its fair share of heartache and deprivation.’

    There you have it.

    One of NIW’s NEDs is going to prove his worth by having tea with the local golfers. I’m glad to see he’s applying all of his ability into what really matters in his new role.

  • William Markfelt

    Fact based on evidence? I thought all facts were based on evidence.

    I suppose we can all be glad that this fella isn’t involved in the media where, with writing skills like that, he might be truly dangerous (in a crimes against Plain English kind of way).

  • Pigeon Toes

    “The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is now understood to have received 1,200 pages of documents from the department, which officials are sifting through to identify commercially sensitive information before releasing to MLAs.”

    Now what could be so “commercially sensitive” in a Publicly funded organisation that the Public Accounts Committee, couldn’t have sight of?

    Hmm the old redactiion trick again?

  • Pigeon Toes

    I should imagine he’s All Shook up at present. 😉 (Apologies)

  • William Markfelt

    We shall see how much confidence he has if the spotlight swings onto Murphy. At that point, the Perm Sec will disappear faster than you can say ‘Chris Mellor’.

    I wonder if 1200 represents all of it. The DRD have previous when it comes to making some paperwork disappear.

  • Pigeon Toes

    They must be members of the Magic Circle as no-one is prepared to explain how that information mysteriously didn’t make it into their FOI responses.

    It’s as plausible as Paul Daniel’s catchphrase.

  • Pigeon Toes
    “NI Water director Mairtin O’Muilleoir attacks critics

    Northern Ireland Water has been through a torrid time
    One of the new board members of Northern Ireland Water has said he and his colleagues have faced unfair criticism.

    Mairtin O’Muilleoir is among five interim board members appointed by Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy.

    Mr Murphy sacked most of the previous board following a damning independent investigation into procurement practices.

    Mr O’Muilleoir and his colleagues were selected under an emergency process, meaning the normal code of practice for public appointments does not apply.”