DRD Permanent Secretary suspended

UTV Live are reporting [added link] that the Department of Regional Development Permanent Secretary Paul Priestly has been suspended pending an investigation.  They also reported that NI Regional Development Minister, Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy, described his permanent secretary’s position as ‘untenable’.  Adds From a News Letter report 14 August

Mr Murphy, the Sinn Fein minister responsible for sacking all but one of the non-executive directors based on a report by consultants, has said that he has “full confidence” in his most senior departmental official, Paul Priestly, despite questions surrounding several leaked emails sent by the DRD permanent secretary.

Update  According to the BBC report

The civil service said the suspension of Paul Priestly was to facilitate the investigation and was not a disciplinary penalty.

Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy has issued a statement claiming Mr Priestly’s position was untenable.

And We have an official statement from the NI Civil Service

The Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, Bruce Robinson has suspended Paul Priestly, Permanent Secretary of the Department for Regional Development pending an investigation into events following the PAC hearing on NI Water. The investigation will consider information which has just emerged today.

The suspension, in accordance with Northern Ireland Civil Service personnel procedures, is for the purpose of facilitating the investigation and is not a disciplinary penalty.

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  • William Markfelt

    ‘Do you really think that the MLAs will look at this with rigour?’

    I do.

    This year we’ve watched Irisgate unfold, followed by allegations about land deals, followed by news that Iris qualified for the sort of pension most of us can only dream of.

    And then we witnessed the voters of east Belfast give their assessment of that they thought of the whole thing at the ballot box.

    I know that in NI voters traditionally never question a politician as long as he or she has the right shade of flag jammed up their ass, but that changed on election night. That should have been a warning that the electorate reach a point where they aren’t taking any shit any longer.

    The NIW tale isn’t as ‘sexy’ for the media (or public) but if MLAs fail to address this matter then confidence in their role, function or existence sinks even lower than it is now. They simply MUST grasp this nettle to restore a little confidence. And we’re witnessing, already, that that is likely to happen, if an early recall of the DRD committee takes place.

    I think we’re watching a parliament in recess think about stirring itself into life because they recognise the gravity of the situation.

  • Truthseeker

    Another interesting line of enquiry people may wish to follow up on is the links between Lian Patterson, the Grade 3 Deputy Secretary whose emails to Priestly were published in today’s press, and Jackie Henry, one of the 3 “independent” IRT members.

    Lian Patterson is a former alumni of Jackie H in the Deloitte Consulting department and when a list of 3 “independent” names including Henry was shown to Patterson by Priestly, Patterson;s reply as published in the press was to remark “good plan, Paul”.

    Is that not a line of enquiry for an investigation?

  • Drumlin Rock

    FJH, have said before a showdown between the Permanents Secretaries and the Assembly was always certain from the moment direct rule ended, and think this is was another necessary and vital part of the “settlement” or what ever you want to call it, it wont end the cronyism, but certainly rebalances the scales of power in the politicians favour somewhat, I think all the MLAs (well maybe not Connor) owe Ms Purvis & Mssrs Dallat & McGlone a debt of gratitude.

  • Cynic

    …but they may have an action for breach of contract…it depends on their contract. They certainly may have a right to an action for breach of confidentiality and defamation. Paul Tweed may be a busy man again.

  • Mick Fealty


    The Minister took that very same political line last night. Tonight he is now in lock step with his SDLP and Independent Unionist colleagues on the PAC.

    The Minister was wrong when he told Jamie Delargy that nothing was going on behind his back. There was.

    There is no evidence that the Minister actually knew that anything was going on behind his back.

    If he didn’t know, then he is not guilty of any wrong doing. But it says little about his antennae that he seems not to have picked up that this IRT report contained nothing of substance pointing at the NEDs. Or that sacking four out of five before they’d read the report, was a harsh and disproportionate punishment.

    You say, “NI Water was hopelessly run and a disgrace”, but you have absolutely no information which justifies this view.

    In fact the biggest danger to NI Water is that there appears to have been no reliable reporting available to the Minister, the Permanent Secretary or even the CEO never mind the Board.

    You are right in one important respect. This is potentially a bigger crisis for the NICS.

    But that depends on the politicians seizing the opportunity to act in some form of concert through the PAC and calling for a public inquiry of the forensic depth and detail of the kind produced on Iarnrod Eireann regarding the collapse of the Malahide Viaduct.

    Summary executions are not what is needed now. That only helps flush valuable evidence down the pan. The more fully we get to understand what has gone wrong the bigger the opportunity to fix it. Slavishly following a party line is one of the things both MLA backbenchers and internet pol hacks need to ditch.

    The staff and management deserve nothing less. Maybe we’ll see less PR about ‘putting manners on civil servants’ and some action that rebalances the power in favour of the people we actually elect to run the country.

  • Cynic

    Obviously ….. their eyes are all too close together, they seem to have Cathelick sounding names and they have never tried to murder anyone so you are right to smell a rat.

  • Cynic

    So just when is the DRD Management Board going to meet and who are the NEDs on that?

  • Cynic

    The question is where was the breakdown? Some of the contracts that were disputed appear to have been let by the Department under Direct Rule and signed off by the then Minister

  • Pigeon Toes
  • Mick Fealty

    In a word, yes. That is indeed the suggestion. Without that ‘suggestion’, I suspect the Minister would still be trying to defend his now suspended PS.

  • Cynic

    Oh come off it. This isnt a Minister taking charge of his Department. Its a shambles that also exposes the Ministers lack of control. From ‘I have total confidence’ to ‘untenable position’ in under 24 hours. Whoops

  • Cynic

    Agreed, the skill levels at the top of NICS are way below the UK Civil Service.

  • Mick Fealty

    Why have you ‘edited’ Dawn Purvis out of your equation?

  • William Markfelt


    There are some very, very unfortunate quotes and claims in that PR release for documentation software, from both Bruce Robison and the company themselves.

    I assume there’s a capacity on this sort of stuff to say ‘do you want to delete, Y/N’ followed by ‘no, do you really, really, really want to delete, Y/N’.

    If there is, it makes a very poor case for ‘clerical error’. To go through a couple of processes prior to deletion infers clear determination to delete.

    And if there’s some sort of user record, i.e document 342325688 deleted by user 4545, there should be a digital paper trail to find out who is deleting (although I suspect there’s an admin hierarchy where deletion rights are only available to a very, very select few.

  • magnus

    Firstly belated congrats to Mr Fealty and fellow contributors for your perseverance, insights and revelations but most importantly your nose on this one; and big apologies to UTV for doubting your potential contribution beforehand.

    This is just a note to say that I agree that the PAC now needs its own investigative resources; the NIAO it appears has gone native and can be summoned up by Perm secs and consultants alike. Much too cosy. For an e mail from Priestley to ask of the C&AG what plans he has for “for assisting the PAC in coming to their final report” renders the scheduled PAC report deeply flawed unless the public are assured otherwise by the PAC.

  • William Markfelt

    Yes, but the remarkable turnaround in Mr. Murphy’s position appears to have been predicated by the contents of the one remaining, recently come to light incendiary email that apparently hasn’t been deleted from the Trim system.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘NIAO it appears has gone native and can be summoned up by Perm secs and consultants alike. ‘

    It has been like that for quite some time.

    The point you make in your final sentence has been asked before, but it’s certainly a point that needs asking, again and again, in the coming days.

  • Damian O’Loan

    Exactly what I had wondered, Malcolm.

    It’s the reaction of the Minister, content to say that he addressed a problem by taking action that I found odd. Not establishing the source of the problem, but simply taking action.

    This kind of gross incompetence seems deliberate. But then, when you look at the Provisional record in policing ‘their areas’, there might be an explanation.

    In any case, a positive argument for privatisation has yet to be advanced. And the work of John Dallat, Dawn Purvis & Patsy McGlone goes a long way to show that Stormont can be trusted in some regards.

    Surely the solution is, among other things, better-equipped Scrutiny Committes with departmental cooperation, as opposed to shifting the responsibility to the private sector.

    Incidentally, on the question of accountability, John Dallat raised again PP’s role in the Belfast-Bangor Railway fiasco some years ago. More evidence of the incentivising consequences of ‘financial mismanagement’.


  • magnus

    Point very well taken WM. I re-read a lot of the threads this evening and used the find facility to check certain points. Your name figured prominently. Well played.

  • Pigeon Toes

    …”. Not least for 3 small children uprooted”

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Necessarily nobody ever “knows” whats going on behind his/her back. The point that Conor Murphys antennae should have been more active is valid but in a sense Murphy is an unlikely “victim” here. Either he had wind of what was going on and is getting himself off the hook OR he hadnta clue what was going on.

    His reaction seems to indicate the latter. He is vulnerable on two counts…wrongdoing or being stupid. But it seems unfair to try and go on BOTH counts.
    Like Ive indicated, the NICS got away with stuff cos the NIO ministers were not hands on…..and the new devolved ministers lack experience.
    The wake up call has been sounded and the other dozen or so Perm Secs wont be getting it so easy when they put a proposal to Minister McGimpsey, Minister MCausland, Minister Attwood and Minister Gildernew.
    The relationships just changed.
    The Jim Hackers are now empowered at the expenses of the Sir Humphreys.

    Conor Murphys career wont suffer. He will be elected next year probably easier than Dallat, McGlone and Purvis.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “There is no evidence that the Minister actually knew that anything was going on behind his back.”

    I’ll be nice.. Yeah he did, and Sam Mc Bride was quite clear on even the “curiosity”reasons.
    Two years ago I would have given him the benefit of doubt, but seriously if he is that naive…
    I don’t think for one second that the Minister is that slow….

  • Pigeon Toes

    Aware of that…Hmmm. now our attention being drawn to it?

  • Baxter, look at the New York photos taken on June 9-10. Belfast Harbour, whose directors are chosen by DRD, is a main sponsor for a private venture organised by one of the new NEDs; the Permanent Secretary who has just left the building was a speaker. Opportunities for misperceptions and even possible conflicts of interest.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Jaybus, it appears they haven;t met since the 18th June 2010. Despite the Model Publication Scheme

  • Pigeon Toes

    ”. Not least for 3 small children uprooted”

    That was in response to WM @ 11.32pm

  • Truthseeker, “With A Little Help From My Friends” by The Cronies?

  • Pigeon Toes


    For some it hasn’t been much fun…No “playing, no game”

  • Pigeon Toes

    “Conor Murphy’s career wont suffer. He will be elected next year probably easier than Dallat, McGlone and Purvis.”

    Fitz , you are forgetting there is a middle ground of 40(ish) year olds who returned circa 1998

    They want to see exactly the kind of questioning that Dallat, McGlone and Purvis are leading the way in.
    “Conor Murphy’s career wont suffer. (True)

  • Jojo

    Is it me? – Or Has everyone forgot about the scandalous way in which the local government reform has taken place – was this just an inept minister or another civil servant playing politics?

  • arbogast

    ‘And if there’s some sort of user record, i.e document 342325688 deleted by user 4545, there should be a digital paper trail to find out who is deleting (although I suspect there’s an admin hierarchy where deletion rights are only available to a very, very select few.’

    It depends, but generally that is true. However the email would have to go into Trim (the records management software) before this audit trail exists.

    That being said, claims of clerical error in deleting an email would be complete nonsense, as when you delete an email in Outlook (which the NICS uses) it goes into a deleted items folder. This needs to be deleted separately.

  • William Markfelt

    I’m afraid, Magnus, that for some of us, this matter is as serious as cancer (the saying goes).

    On matters pertaining to NIAO, unrelated to NIW; it has long been a suspicion (suspect only in that there’s quite a bit of obfuscation concerned) that the role and function of the NIAO was a matter of concern.

    As the NIW story has unravelled, there are elements of it that simply fuel those suspicions and in some aspects of it, simply factually confirmed other points.

    The trail of the ‘dead’ only begins with Priestly. There are bodies (and skeletons) to be found dotted along the road for some distance yet, if there is full disclosure to be had on ‘relationships’ of sorts.

    The NIW story only brushes some of these, but the genie’s out of the bottle, and it’s only will and determination required by the MLAs to reveal a much deeper well of deceit, lies and suspect actions by a variety of government agencies.

  • William Markfelt

    This is an extremely important point, PT, not yet addressed.

    Each time people indulge in these ‘power plays’, as Mick referred to them, there is a human cost.

    Three small children uprooted, Declan Gormley’s reputation destroyed, illness, possible bankruptcy, etc of the victims of these power plays.

    It is vital that this, too, is examined. In fact, viewed with some proper perspective, this is a central issue (maybe even worth a thread of its own?), and the cost of some piddly contracts procedures simply becomes mere money when contrasted to the torment and torture, emotionally, physically, mentally and fiscally, suffered by victims of these civil service mind games.

  • Mick Fealty

    Well normally, yes. But, note before you put in your FOIs that the Commissioner was frozen out of the process this time, for reasons still not easy to see. For that reason these appointments are only interim FO

  • Jay
  • Flip2

    Time to privatise NIW. This just shows that large organisations delivering services to the public should be free from all this nonsense and allowed to get on with their remit. NIW needs fundamental change; it needs exposed to the wider utilities market to drive down costs and increase service levels. It doesn’t need to be dragged into the political mire.

  • Drumlin Rock

    he would say that wouldn’t he!
    but I’m sure he was well aware of the story as it developed on here and chose not to act in any manner. I agree Cynic that this time the minister chose to be the “servant” of his department rather than of the assembly, I hope other ministers will learn from this where their loyalities should really lie!

  • just sayin’

    Yes … its me being a pedant time!

    Strictly speaking local government reform hasn’t taken place. Yes, the Minister has been a bit of a ****, but they were never his decisions to make, they were the Executives. So major plague on Ministers house and many little plagues on everyone elses?

    On this occasion I doubt it was civil servants playing politics. Being slow, wasting money, being crushingly unimaginative … probably. Playing politics, less likely on this occasion.

  • Damiam, I can see no reason why PAC can’t call the sacked NEDs to get their version of events and the Minister and his special advisor for whatever roles they have played.

  • Benjamin

    “Two good men”

    Just wanted to add my voice as a NI Water employee to those comments on the two Executive Directors.

    One of the men I haven’t worked directly with but he is known universally as being tough, firm but fair and extremely competent within his field of expertise.

    The other man I have worked with over a number of years. He is a true example to his staff, a real water industry professional throughout his long and distinguished career. He is universally respected within the industry and has an unblemished (until recent slurs) reputation of integrity and professionalism. A real gentleman.

    It has made me sick to my stomach to see two honest and experienced professionals treated in such a way by lesser men. The people of NI and the employees of NI Water would be fortunate to have either as the next CEO.

  • William, just over two years ago the then MEP Jim Allister contacted NIAO about questionable practices relating to the award of the Rathlin ferry contract. DRD carried out an internal review but instead of passing this to NIAO for consideration it set up an in-house ‘independent’ series of investigations. It would appear that NIAO isn’t fit for purpose. Ditto CRD and PAC who still haven’t looked at the report after 20 months.

  • The Raven

    Problem is, I don’t think costs will be driven down. Is there not a wider problem with the infrastructure improvements needed? Also, can we be guaranteed that the cost of water which makes up our rates will be removed from those rates if it is privatised?

  • Baxter

    Which two are you talking about Benjamin ?

  • Stool Pigeon

    Is it me? – Or is this the most ridiculously petty issue to make a meal of? Rome is burning and NI faces decades in the wildrness yet there is so much energy going into pointing blame on such a non issue. Hey Everyone – wise up – There’s a much bigger world out there with much more serious things going on – you might want to take a day out off these shores once in a while. From a personal point of view Paul Priestley is one of very few senior civil servants who care about the future of this place rather than his pension. Anywhere else in the sane world would give him a quick slap and tell him to just get on with the far more serious duty of sorting this place out before it withers pathetically on the vine. This guy is one of very few I would trust to get this place sorted and NOT the bloke who suspended him.

  • insider

    is this whole business the beginning of a bit more accountability(that word again) in relation to the unwieldy structure the nics has evolved into.I hope so.The potential for savings to be made in that organisation is vast,believe me.Do i bit the hand that feeds or bit the bullet and reveal my solutions?

  • The Enquirer

    Aa a former NIW employee I wonder if Mr Dallat’s and Mr McGlone’s pursuit of this has anything to do with the fact that one of the contracts in question was given to a new company instead of one owned by a rather significant financial contributor to the SDLP?

  • William Markfelt

    ‘DRD carried out an internal review but instead of passing this to NIAO for consideration it set up an in-house ‘independent’ series of investigations. It would appear that NIAO isn’t fit for purpose.’

    I’m aware of claims made (by numerous people) that a government agency had a specific ‘culture’.

    This was allowed to be investigated internally, and the conclusion was that there was no evidence to support the claims made by several different people. It was a whitewash and cover up, in other words.

    NIAO then rubber stamped this finding in a report to PAC without any further investigation. Which leaves little confidence in NIAO being capable of doing the job(s) outlined in their mission statement. The basis of their role was to meekly accept the claims of a government agency and pass them on.

    I am in total agreement, Nevin. NIAO is not fit for purpose.

    Once you begin to factor in elements like Rathlin Island, and now compromised independence in regard of the NIW saga, it begins to look like there are as many failings there as there are in NIW or DRD, and maybe it is time to seek an Inquiry into NIAO’s existence, and the Auditor-General’s role in overseeing a failed entity.