NI Water: UTV Live report tonight…

The UTV late news programme should return tonight with a hour long special report on Northern Ireland Water. It’s scheduled for after the Ten O’Clock News, and will feature a documentary piece with an extended interview with the Minister and a panel discussion in which I hope to take part.

We should have the video available here on Slugger by tomorrow am, if you miss it. In the meantime, I am hoping they will produce material that will put Slugger’s coverage over the summer into a more meaningful context.

To recap, there are serious problems with procurement in NI Water. But Slugger is not convinced the case presented to the Public Accounts Committee even touched the real problem; which is more likely to revolve around industry contractors running rings around non industry civil servants than mere ‘breaches of procedure’.

In this case, the so-called ‘independent’ reporting appears to have been tightly controlled by the people most directly responsible for the real difficulties in procurement.

And remember here that the £28 million the PAC was invited to consider was not money lost, it was simply money that was spent in ways that breached a number of departmental policies. As confirmed to the PAC,there was no fraud, and there are no criminal actions arising.

And yet, on foot of a very expensive report (outsourced to a close friend of the CEO) that makes no case that the board was in any way responsible for these breaches, the Board was effectively sacked. Why?

And why did the CEO feel compelled to resign over such a minor issue?

The MLAs of course can be forgiven for taking these actions as proportionate and relative, since that is precisely how it was presented them by the Permanent Secretary, the CEO and the NI Audit Office’s ‘associated memorandum’.

So what was Laurence McKenzie’s actual motive for resigning? And why, two days later, did he withdraw that resignation?

Whilst the sacked NEDs have every right to pursue their own legitimate case over their flagrant mistreatment by the Department by any and all means available to them, we believe their case could merely be the tip of the iceberg.

Through our investigations over the summer it has become obvious to us that almost everyone in this story can be made accountable for their actions and the quality of their decisions (MPs, MLAs, Ministers, and those appointed to public boards). All, that is except senior career civil servants (and, it seems, some of their preferred suppliers).

It is also obvious that the MLAs on the Public Accounts Committee are generally poorly served in the quality of information provided them by the very people they are hoping to call to account.

Given what we know (and judging by the Minister’s remarks we must now be in possession of more information than he has been provided him), our elected officials are being treated by their senior civil servant on a strictly need to know basis.

Which gives rise to a more concerning question: how wide does this culture spread across government, which is secondary only to the question of how deep this mess actually goes inside DRD/NI Water?

Which reminds me, over three weeks after Patsy McGlone wrote to him, the Head of the Civil Service has yet to acknowledge receipt of those letters outlining Mr Priestley’s offer of help to the Audit Office in shaping the PAC’s final report on NI Water.

Let me say too there are good people working hard and smart inside NI Water to improve matters, and in particular trying to bring otherwise expensive expertise back inhouse… But they are not helped by the kinds of power playing and distraction that seem to have characterised this story.

Is there a prima facae case here for beefing up the investigative powers of parliamentary committees? If not, then how can a committee whose prime responsibility is to keep an eye on how public money is spent rely for their source information on the very people they are set up to investigate?

I’ll be on a panel discussing the content of the programme. Please use the space below for questions you’d like to see raised. I cannot promise to use them, since I suspect I’ll only have time for a few items. But then I won’t be the only one reading it (so keep it legal and decent!!).

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  • Pigeon Toes

    “The email obtained by the News Letter suggests that months before the ‘independent review’ which Mr Murphy said in March was the reason for sacking the directors, the directors were denigrated and potential replacements for the then chairman were discussed…In it, Mr MacKenzie – despite having only joined the company several weeks previously – effectively discusses with his new boss’s boss the potential for the resignation of the man who appointed him, NI Water chairman Chris Mellor, describing it as “no great loss” if he left
    the company.

    Mr MacKenzie goes on to say that while “externally it might be difficult” if Mr Mellor left the company so soon after Mr MacKenzie had taken over as chief executive, he could recommend Sir Patrick Harren, former head of Northern Ireland Electricity, where Mr MacKenzie had been chief executive until joining NI Water just weeks previously.

    The other non-executive directors, he claimed, would “not be up for the job”.”

  • Mr Angry


    Whilst not “core” to the ongoing shenannigans at NI Water should the opportunity present itself can you ask if NI Water will make their sale / decomissioning of Stoneyford reservoir contingent on it still being made available to anglers under the terms of DCAL issued licences and permits?

    This is a very important leisure resource in the greater Lisburn area which has been funded partly and stocked entirely through revenues raised through the sale of fishing licences and permits over many, many years.

    That NI Water should seek to now sell it off to the highest bidder (presumably as a going concern) is worrysome.

  • Brian Walker


    UTV should be commended for devoting an hour long programme to this farly recondite subject – or indeed any opther news theme. Congrats above all to you too for making the weather on a heavy story that the MSM eventually latched on to.

    I would be content to leave the details to you with the following observations:

    I hope the programme is structured to shed light on the basic issues such as you have outlined in bold above.

    I assume the minister will have the last word so it’s important to shape incisive questions intelligible to viewers, avoiding alpabet soup and excessive detail. I know only too well how hard it is to resist getting bogged down in detail. But if that happens, the opposite is the result to what’s intended. You hand a gift to the minister if he wants to evade.And he’s’ an astute guy, (although he allowed himself to mispeak over supporting the PSNI).

    I confess I’m a bit at sea over the detail anyway. I hope the preceding film report makes the issues clear.

    Behind it all, has there been an attempt to play down ballooning costs that can only be rectified by imposing stiff water charges? And an attempt to conceal this from the public through the Pulbic Accounts Committee of the Assembly, which has been treated with scant respect. but may partly deserve it, as they lack the expertise to interrogate officials brought up in a culture of more or less total power over the domestic agenda under Direct Rule? I only ask..

  • Brian Walker

    Oh.. and I should add-
    Can officials say hand on heart that none of them has in any respect breached the Nolan Principles they are bound by law and the civil service code to uphold?


    Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends.

    Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.

    In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.

    Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.

    Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.

    Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.

    Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.

    These principles apply to all aspects of public life. The Committee has set them out here for the benefit of all who serve the public in any way.

  • Drumlin Rock

    Mick, for this to become a public issue then it needs a focus, the central issue is “was the sacking of the 4 NEDs JUSTIFIED going by facts known at that time, and was the process of their sacking FAIRLY carried out.” quite dry and uninteresting to the man on the street except those involved of course. The wider issue of Civil Service accountability should be the main area of public concern although the implications this has on any possible privatisation are important too. The clash has always been on the cards from the moment direct rule ended and local accountability came into play, although I have always thought it would have been a PS against a Minister type battle, did not expect them to end up on the same side!
    We all know the “Sir Humphreys” usually get their way eventually, but hopefully this will curtail their powers or at least make them think twice.
    The challenge tonight is to get the public to latch onto the main issues, unfortunately in the public eye if they drank Bottled Water and not tap water at board meetings that would count as more of a scandal, good luck with the panel!

  • snowstorm

    Interesting choice for the panel, apparently it includes Joanne Stuart from the IoD? Does that mean that she is speaking with the impramatur of the IoD locally, or the IoD on a UK wide basis? Has she got the expertise to comment on the IRT, the PAC etc?

    I’d say there will be a few legal eagles tuned in tonight.

  • DC

    The other issue is whether the whole set up is *effective* and efficient.

    Effective in the sense that the delivery aspect of NI Water is better in private hands than having it done as a purely public service, better in that it is cheaper to the taxpayer in the long run. Efficient is secondary I suppose and can be seen as a more longer term thing in that costs will not balloon in future via flaws or drawbacks in contracts issued via the department.

    Procedurally it seems there a few things awry and perhaps a bit esoteric limiting wider interest for if water supply can be done more effectively in the end (based on correct revenue projections) then transparency and accountability on this issue (of the inner workings of government) may well remain merely a secondary thing?

  • Drumlin Rock

    PS if you get a chance before tonight try explaining the whole thing to a “man/woman in the Street”who knows nothing about it!

  • magnus

    Why was the chair of the committee charged with monitoring the control environment not sacked?
    Even the other non executive members of the Audit Committee were sacked.What saved Don Price from the firing line?

    Given this unique vote of Ministerial confidence why has the Minister then felt it necessary to insist on a senior Department officer attending every future Audit Committee meeting.

    Will Don Price remain chair of the Audit Committee? If he remains chair there is an obvious conflict of interest given that investigations into what happened before have not yet concluded. If he does not remain chair his position as a non executive director is surely untenable following what amounts to a vote of no confidence by his fellow members.

  • Pigeon Toes

    In light of the leaked emails from Mr Priestly to Kieran Donnelly, what reassurances can be given to the public regarding the independence of NIAO?

    Did this email conform to protocol, and what to date has been the NIAO’s role in the affair?

    How many “independent Investigations” have been undertaken by DRD since 2007?

    What was the cost of these, and who decided on the composition of the review teams?”

  • “our elected officials are being treated by their senior civil servant on a strictly need to know basis.” .. Mick

    It’s not just one senior civil servant as I pointed out on Slugger some months ago:

    “I met Peter [Robinson] a few months ago at a ceremony in Mosside, Co Antrim (North) [on November 28, 2008]. One revealing and humorous comment dealt with the difficulties of getting information out of civil servants. My friends and I have experienced similar problems whilst covering the Rathlin ferry saga!”

    I understand some civil servants have been extremely rude when asked perfectly civil questions by members of the public.

  • mike coyle

    Interesting to hear this issue raised and its publication.
    However, I fear that it is the tip of a very big iceberg which goes to the heart of Government and to questions about the model of governance.
    The lack of public discussion on the overall model of operating the water service, the ownership of assets, the relationship between operators with 25 year contracts and their borrowing which is guaranteed by government decreed charges is a concern and is reflected in other traditionally public sectors.
    There may be good reasons to adopt these new models but the process needs to be accompanied with informed public discussion and consultation in which independant audit and objective advice is crucial

  • Curious departure of David Gilmour, ex NIW Executive and some missing minutes issues.

    His job title changed between August 4 and August 18 2009 from Director of Procurement to Commercial Director – which sort of clouds the procurement role – and some time later the new post was made ‘redundant’.

    Online Executive Team minutes were ‘discontinued’ after November 2, 2009; this was the ET meeting which followed the ‘difficult’ October 27 Board meeting. They are to be ‘restored’ by August 23 and consideration is being given to the publication of Board minutes as per ICO Model Publication Scheme.

  • mike coyle

    -take a look at the structure of “Glen Water” and “Dalriada Water” the composition of the ownership and the contracts they were awarded-in the case of Dalraida-just before the Assembly came into being.

  • Brian, re Integrity and Objectivity should the Minister and the Permanent Secretary have had an input to the appointment of some of the new NEDS, indeed were all of the new ‘interim’ NEDs appointed via the same process and criteria and does the NED ‘community’ make-up reflect the requirements of Public Appointments, Equal Opportunities and other legislation.

    a href=””>Paul Priestly participated at the beginning of June in the New York New Belfast conference in New York. His speech included the politically partisan, “This “New Belfast” will not only be the driver for our regional prosperity but will play a key role in the economic development of the whole island.” This places Belfast in the context of Strand 2 and so IMO is a breach of the 1998 Agreement.

    The NewYorkNewBelfast website is registered to the Belfast Media Group and it and the Irish Echo are identified with one of the new NIW NEDs, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir.

    One of the main sponsors of this private venture in New York was Belfast Harbour whose directors are appointed by the Minister for Regional Development, Conor Murphy. There’s no mention of Murphy in the New York list of participants but he was a speaker at a similar event in Boston in 2009 for the ‘North West of Ireland’.

    Padraic White, another new NED and NIW Chair, and Ó Muilleoir are both members of West Belfast and Greater Shankill Enterprise Council so the NED selection would appear to have been a rather narrow trawl.

  • OOPs – URL blunder

    Paul Priestly sporting an Irish Echo name badge.

  • Another general point that might be thrown in – are we being asked to take the NI Water saga as extraordinary – or is there evidence to suggest that similar problems exist in other agencies and departments? Are the PAC satisified that this is a local failure (confined to NIW) or is it systemic?
    By the way – I think there is a prima facie case for a parliamentary committee (be it Stormont, Westiminster, the Oireachtas, wherever) having primacy when it comes to investigative powers. There is nothing more demoralising for members of the public to witness (largely nameless) senior civil servants being hauled before a government committee which rapidly discovers that, despite whatever grand name it carries, it is largely toothless and ineffective.

  • John, we also need to know who writes the forward work programme for the Assembly committees.

  • DC

    There is nothing more demoralising for members of the public to witness (largely nameless) senior civil servants being hauled before a government committee which rapidly discovers that, despite whatever grand name it carries, it is largely toothless and ineffective

    In Australia they appoint senior civil servants on a term by term basis post-election and I reckon changes like that should be brought in to Britain and here in NI devolution too.

    At the moment the civil service is neither truly autonomous and fully independent in nature nor fully political in that it answers properly to elected politicians and ministers in an effective way.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘more likely to revolve around industry contractors running rings around non industry civil servants than mere ‘breaches of procedure’.’

    I’m not wholly sure what you’re driving at here, Mick, but am guessing that you’re inferring that it’s business, it’s capitalism, it’s businesses maximising profit, hence the ‘no fraud’ claim. It would appear from what you’re saying that people in business, whose motivation (and need) is to make a profit, have made a healthy profit.

    It’s neither immoral or illegal, it’s business, and if NIW/DRD are going to make an issue out of this, it’s going to go nowhere. Both NIW and DRD are pretty much screwed. The work was agreed at a certain rate for certain things, and that’s the end of it. They’ve turned a big profit. Result.

    From the other side of the coin, if a business had agreed to undertake specific work, and then LOST a million quid on it, well, that’s business too. It’s exceptionally doubtful NIW/DRD would have considered making up the shortfall. In that instance it would have been a case of ‘suck it up, about to go bankrupt company’. The ‘result’ in that case would have been a good deal of NIW internal gloating about how they’d taken the company for a ride.

    None of this can work both ways.

    I’ve argued the quasi-socialist/authoritarian/totalitarian/witch-hunting aspects of the NIA elsewhere before, and I’m actually flabbergasted that, if companies making profit are the basis of NIW/DRD’s ire/concern, then we truly are walking in the shadow of contractor collectives and Five Year Plans.

    They expect people to tender for work at a loss???????

    Of course the motivation, the only motivation, is profit, and if they’re going to babble on about this and focus on it, then it’s going to end in tears for the DRD/NIW. And if they’re going to start blacklisting companies who attempt to make a profit, then we can add McCarthyism to the NIA’s list of crimes. It begins to look as if PAC’s role (and it already does to some degree) is to exist as a de facto House of Un-Ulsterish Activities committee. ‘If we suspect you of making a profit from government contracts, you WILL be investigated’.

    As for contractors ‘running rings around non-business minded cicil servants’, it points to a fatal flaw in the entire culture of the civil service. NONE (or at least, very, very few) have ANY experience of business. They’re overwhelmingly career civil servants, and NONE would have the hard-nosed business sense required to be in and survive in the world of business.

    Rather laughably, we still hear civil servants with their pensions, their index-linked salaries and their ‘redeployments’ as opposed to redundancy, babble about ‘stress’. In the Civil Service? There is no stress. None whatsoever. We can hoot with derision every time we hear someone like Priestly moan about how ‘tough’ it has been. The poor baby! Wah-wah-wah!

    Maybe one of the lessons emerging from this is that the NICS needs to consider recruiting people who HAVE been or ARE in business, who bring an entirely different mind-set to the table, if they are truly going to achieve VFM, or a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.

    If industry contractors are ‘running rings’ around the NICS, it’s their good fortune. Nothing immoral, nothing illegal. Just capitalism at work.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘a more concerning question: how wide does this culture spread across government,’

    Full width, full depth.

    It is my belief that at least several departments are run as private fiefdoms. Your comment regarding ‘power plays’ also suggests the same belief (to a larger or smaller degree, but we’re still ploughing the same furrow’).

    It is not simply the departments who are involved in these games, but all other agencies of government that are involved in these power plays. Health boards, Education Boards, probably even in outlets like the HMSO or Ordnance Survey, if we only cared enough to look under the rock.

    One thing I have been struck by is the role of the NIAO. While they (currently) seem to set off far stage-right at the moment, one thing that is emerging, and has not been fully examined yet, is the question of their ‘independence’.

    They have none.

    The NIW/DRD’s role in all of this has been to expose them as government stooges, without any sense of them being ‘fair’ or ‘independent’. They APPEAR to have been content to do, say, write whatever the DRD (in this instance, and other departments, in other instances) have told them to do, say or write.

    THAT is cause for serious concern, and their seriously compromised ‘independence’ should be a matter for a Public Inquiry, to ascertain just how much they are being played like a cheap violin by the departments.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘what reassurances can be given to the public regarding the independence of NIAO?’

    I commented on this (below) prior to seeing your post, PT.

    I don’t think there can be any reassurances about the independence of the NIAO simply because they have none.

    Regarding your point about how many ‘independent’ investigations have been undertaken by the DRD since 2007, we need to widen that question (or tack on a supplemental) to ask how many reports have the NIAO compiled since its inception that can be regarded as ‘independent’?

    I suspect that many of the NIAO’s reports could be construed as deeply flawed as a result of the way in which the departments frame investigations for NIAO perusal, and that there would be exceptionally little evidence of the NIAO attempting to strike a balance once they have received instructions from their political masters.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘Can officials say hand on heart that none of them has in any respect breached the Nolan Principles they are bound by law and the civil service code to uphold?’

    Probably not, Brian. Which is fine, in a sense, because some of these principles are exceptionally subjective. It’s fine to say they should be ‘as open as possible’, but different people will respond to what they imagine they need to be open about in different ways (and that isn’t to infer any ‘malice’ in what they withhold. People are just….different).

    On that basis, maybe all of them breach at least some of the principles every week. You can’t really legislate for that in a ‘code’. These are guidelines, and each of us would, could and do interpret them differently.

    The problem arises where actions form repeating patterns to the extent that they ‘give rise to the perception’ that it is MORE than just different interpretations of the rules, but a calculated and willful flaunting of the rules, up to and past the point where honesty and integrity are long since forgotten.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘ls there evidence to suggest that similar problems exist in other agencies and departments?’

    Since this entire NIW debacle emerged, it rather looks as though, at a time when agencies should be a little more circumspect with regard to the thorny, delicate issue of procurement, at least one have decided to dismiss the need for advertising for contractors and simply extend what were, presumably, fixed-term contracts.

    In the context of questions being asked about procurement matters, it seems rather careless that they should leave themselves open to ‘perceptions’ that all might not have been done as properly as it should.

  • Critical Alien
  • William Markfelt

    Also, much has been made of the awkward little relationships between key players in the NIW tale.

    In reference to the issue above, it would appear, to me, that there are also some awkward little relationships involved.

    I shan’t go further than this right now until I make some more ‘connections’ on that matter -and I would certainly want to discuss this privately via email with Mick before posting anything- but if true (and I stress ‘if’) it would certainly ‘give rise to the perception’ that micro-networks are very much part of the culture across several different agencies, and there is a replication of the ‘matters of concern’ related to NIW.

    I’ve also discovered, while digging, a third agency where, I believe, procurement and relationships are ‘awkward’, but I don’t have any documentation (yet) to post up as evidence of that agency being somewhat lax, particularly in the current climate, in how they handle procurement in the wake of the NIW charade.

    None of this is really important right now, other than to demonstrate that NIW is PROBABLY not an isolated case in how it works.

  • mike coyle

    The point I make is that the privatisation of Northern Ireland Water is already done under the 25 year contracts-done by the back door whilst the payment to the bitpiece operators still comes from the taxpayer as water charges are not yet levied.
    If the full privatisation would be implemented the public would not see any of the mechanism of how the water charges are operated as they would(will) be charges to a private water operator and not subject to detailed examination by the audit office.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘Interesting choice for the panel’

    Probably recruited under emergency procedures, thereby negating any need to follow regular appointments procedures.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘I assume the minister will have the last word;

    According to the News Letter he has left the country (I assume they mean ‘failed state-let’) so it looks as though what he has to say will be a pre-recorded job, followed by the panel discussion Mick’s involved in, so whoever gets the last word, it’s not going to be the Minister.

    As he has already indulged in classic ‘failing PR battle’ tactics (no comment, followed by a comment) it rather looks as though this could be a BIG mistake, as his pre-recorded interview, to be subsequently discussed by the panel?, could very much end with his words being trailed to bits.

  • Critical Alien

    I plonked this a little way up the thread by mistake. Perhaps it’ll raise a titter

  • mike coyle

    extract from DC !!!!Effective in the sense that the delivery aspect of NI Water is better in private hands than having it done as a purely public service, better in that it is cheaper to the taxpayer in the long run.!!!!!

    really -we have moved on since the Thatcher era and especially in the delivery of clean and the processing of dirty water the jury is out on the above

  • Pigeon Toes

    “SuddenlyI find myself dismissed by email without any right of appeal and then the full media campaign orchestrated to make sure that it is my dismissal and those of my colleagues that is published as widely as possible – of course it has had an impact on me,” Mr Gormley said.

    “The reason I have felt compelled to try and enter into uncovering what is going on is because I want to get my reputation vindicated.”

    The questions asked by the programme:

    Did the Department for Regional Development abuse its power?
    Can the independent review into NI Water be described as properly independent?
    Did a government department use its control and influence to get the outcome it wanted?”

    There are quite a few who can empathize with that situation, brought about by DRD and their “Independent Investigations”

  • William Markfelt

    It has already been requistioned for use elsewhere, CA 🙂

  • Critical Alien


  • Pigeon Toes

    I think you will find that an official DRD “Independent Investigation” would deem that an “error of judgement”…

    I enjoyed it too 😉

  • Pigeon Toes

    But only if vindicating a civil servant. Emails can also be “loosely drafted” i.e mean the opposite of what the words actually state.

  • Well, we can whittle it down to two or three grades of civil servant. But is not really the case that – we need to know what the exact reporting structure is and who issues the brief for the work programme?

  • Nice one. We could have a series “Aye Minister” featuring Murphy or “Aloha Aloha” featuring Ó Muilleoir 🙂

  • just sayin’

    marty millar attacks sdlp-leaning press —- lol

  • William Markfelt

    There is a train of thought elsewhere that another government agency ‘investigation’ was actually assembled without the investigating agency (appointed by the first agency) actually having the authority to do so, and this quite possibly ‘illegal’ investigation formed the basis of an NIAO report presented to PAC.

    I’m looking into this theory/tale at the moment. Nothing conclusive yet, but that’s more down to stonewalling by a government agency. They seem very, very reluctant to confirm or deny, which in my experience leads one to the conclusion that they can’t actually deny claims of an illegal investigation.

    More to follow on this issue in due course

  • Pigeon Toes

    Having watched the preview for the programme, I think it is abundantly clear that there was *no* independent investigation.

    Perhaps PAC members will now ask about other such DRD “Independent Investigations” which have left others in a similar situation to Mr Gormley.

  • Brian Walker

    nevin Your indictment of Mr Priestly on the grounds stated a score fo comments ago is misplaced and finicky, I think. He is entitled to recommend all island policies of economic benefit. And Belfast Today is associated with an Executive party. Can’t’ see the problems..

  • Pigeon Toes

    Yep, I think we are in terms of “I told ya so”…

  • “Can’t’ see the problems..”

    Apparently not, Brian!! Seemingly neither could John Hume – so you’re in exalted company. Meanwhile, I prefer to give a fair deal to both Unionists and Nationalists in so far as that is possible.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘In a statement, NI Water said: “In Autumn 2009, there was some concern as to whether the NI Water chairman and former acting chief executive, Chris Mellor, intended to remain in post.”

    The statement said that Mr Mellor “quite rightly” believed he was entitled to a pre-agreed bonus, having met certain targets, and was unhappy at the axing of bonuses across the public sector.

    “In this context, with the possibility that the chairman of NI Water might resign, the permanent secretary asked the new NI Water chief executive, Laurence MacKenzie, for his personal view as to whether the post of chairman could be filled from within the board at that time.

    “This exchange represented prudent contingency planning in the event that the chairman did decide to leave.’

    That analysis of Priesty’s email depend very much on how many capital letters he used.

    Prudent contingency? I wonder if Priestly enquired, of Mellor, of his intentions if the non-payment of bonuses followed through? Or did he simply indulge in the same behind their backs sniping that McKenzie did?