NI Water: All hope resiles to the PAC report…

It’s worth looking at what purports to be a communication from Laurence McKenzie in an internal memo to his staff… and that of the Minister on UTV… Both, it seems, are pinning their hopes on the PAC’s report (another of Mr Priestley’s attempts to manage the outcomes of other people’s work).

But as the News Letter notes this morning, the Minister’s explanation is undermined by the e-mail exchanges between Laurence McKenzie and Peter Dixon… Not mention Paul Priestley’s suggested changes, which the Minister made very clear he had not seen before. Here’ the relevant passage from the UTV programme:

JAMIE – I know you do not want to go into emails and all the communications but did you know that Paul Priestly was submitting actual wording to be incorporated in the IRT report?

CONOR – I am not aware of whatever exchanges there were. I asked the IRT people, before I received their report were they satisfied that it was independent. That it was their work and that it was evidenced based and that they can stand over it and they told me yes and I accept that assurance from them.

But weren’t Board very publicly sacked for not acting on what they weren’t told? That detail is obvious to anyone who reads the NI Water Timeline post on Slugger. It begs the question of what was the Minister’s special advisor doing at this time if he wasn’t keeping his eye on the detail before signing off on such an audacious public act?

Back to McKenzie’s internal communication of today. Note the particular language: “my role was to participate fully with the review”. Now, better grammarians than I will note the word is he should be looking for in that sentence is ‘co-operate‘. You participate ‘in‘ not ‘with‘.

Yet of course ‘in’ means ‘inside the machine’ so to speak (where on this occasion he plainly has no right to be), whilst ‘with’ indicates he where should be, outside that process.

So, that’s just semantics (I hear the sound of rustling web pages to see what you can get on me). But perhaps it’s indicative of this slightly half baked, half way house the CEO has built for himself.  Half in and half out.

We don’t need the PAC to tell us Mr McKenzie’s radical suggestion has brought him to a very awkward place indeed.


  • Just a small point, Mick, his surname is spelt MacKenzie – for the benefit of googlodytes.

    MacKenzie email, Nov 16, 2008: “.. they tell me I am being autocratic — I say — get used to It!”

    An anecdote that came my way today suggests that if you want a remedy to a complaint against NIW dealt with promptly you go to MacKenzie; if you go through the formal contact process they might fanny about for two years and still not get the matter resolved. This class of cultures may have played a part in some of NIW’s difficulties, not least in MacKenzie’s dealings with the Board.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘That it was their work and that it was evidenced based and that they can stand over it and they told me yes’

    The IRT may very well be right to confirm that it was evidence based.

    However, if the evidence presented to them is tainted or tampered with, then how much value does the evidence have?

    There are other examples put before PAC where ‘evidence’ of this or that bears no relation to the issues being discussed by PAC, but are cobbled together to build a case. Sometimes the ‘evidence’ has had no connection whatsoever with the issue at hand.

    Essentially, then, it’s wholly possible possible that evidence presented to the IRT was irrelevant, peripheral or flawed, but added to build a case against the NEDs.

    I get the feeling that Declan Gormley, God bless him, isn’t going to go queitly, and it will be very interesting to learn if there are, ah, things he had no knowledge of that were presented in his Kafkaesque ‘trial’.

  • Pete Baker

    UTV reporting Priestley’s been suspended and Murphy saying that his Permanent Secretary’s position is ‘untenable’.

  • PAC should do the decent thing and talk to the sacked NEDs otherwise the PAC IMO becomes culpable too.

  • William Markfelt

    I’m afraid that PAC doesn’t have a great track record in seeking some sort of balanced view of events. Their MO, hitherto, has been to snuffle up whatever bodies like the DRD or NIAO set on the plate.

    But I agree with you, Nevin.

    It is now vital that PAC change their rules (if there are any) to permit ‘the accused’ in all of these ‘witch hunts’ to present a counter-balancing argument, at the very least in written form, and then supplemental answers, and the whole shebang stuck on Hansard.

  • William and Mick, it’s been a hectic few days but PAC should also be looking at some other procurement related DRD documents that are ‘missing in action’. Failure to add a reference number probably doesn’t help.

  • Damian O’Loan

    On cooperate with/participate in:

    I know there are questions over Freud’s scientific basis, but this appears to be a most revealing lapsus.

    A lapsus is more often committed and then corrected under his theory of control of unconscious impulses. So we would expect the mistake/sincerity to be ‘particpate’, then returning to the prepared line with the preposition ‘with’.

    The halfway house would appear to be as in as possible on his terms of self-interest, while presenting the appearance of out.

    Very minor related to your wider work, but a nice geek point of interest for me.