DUP: We need to establish the truth about the role of the Permanent Secretary

This is a particularly forensic statement from the DUP, which effectively ends what has been (probably by default) a bipartisan line on the NI Water story with Sinn Fein. I’m copying it, less for the political import and more for the nature of the questions it poses. Michelle McIllveen:

“This is a deeply serious situation, unprecedented in the Assembly. As Vice-Chairman of the Committee I had already asked for an urgent meeting with the DRD Minister following recent press coverage about the NIW situation.

The suspension of the Permanent Secretary is of such a magnitude that the DRD Committee should be recalled at the earliest convenience where the Minister and the Department can address the concerns of members.

Whilst we need to establish the truth about the role of the Permanent Secretary, many will question how the DRD Minister was able to offer defence for the Permanent Secretary and in less than twenty-four hours make a compete u-turn.

We need to establish how the situation changed and what, if any, new information came to the Minister’s attention. We need to establish if the Permanent Secretary was acting on his own instincts or was he taking any Ministerial guidance?

Another serious question is why the Minister moved so quickly to sack the four non-executive directors without checking the activity between the Department and the Review Panel.

The Minister is ultimately responsible for his Department and this situation did not develop overnight. We have witnessed the sacking of the four non-executive directors and now the Permanent Secretary of DRD has been suspended. This seems like a Department out of control. (emphasis added)”

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  • Mick, there seems to be a disconnect between the Chair and Vice-Chair of CRD: “Mr Cobain added that he and the DUP deputy chairman of the DRD committee, Michelle McIlveen, would speak with Mr Murphy and the permanent secretary privately in coming weeks and update the committee.” .. News Letter Aug 18

    As you know, Cobain has form when it comes to deferring to the Minister.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    The scope for the DUP or any party to make political hay is limited. Nobody in Camlough is suddenly going to change their minds about politics and vote DUP instead of SF.
    In that sense even if Murphy is up to his neck, he wont lose a vote.
    In breaking the bi-partisanship, DUP have to consider its value.
    Theoretically….A “Sir Humphrey” MIGHT wish to pursue a defence strategy that he had a nod and a wink from a Minister to do what he might have done. This might rally the members of an opposing political party around him and so blur the issue that the Perm Secretary gets away with a nice handshake.
    The Minister would be damaged but not much and all Perm Secs would recognise the Ministers have grown up and can actually confront them.
    The tactic to adopt has to be the “right” one whether
    as an elected Minister versus meddling Civil Service issue or evil SF Minister versus professional NICS.

    Time to see how grown up the Ministers are.
    Time to see how grown up MLAs are.

  • iluvni

    Why should anyone pay any heed whatsoever to anything the DUP says on any issue of impropriety given the fact the First Minister remains in his job?

  • Mick Fealty

    Nev, you are taking a quote from yesterday, before the brown stuff hit the fan and comparing it to one that came after… Don’t go there…

  • Mick Fealty

    iln,

    If you quit playing the man and examine the ball, you’ll find their questions are nevertheless very sound.

  • Sam Flanagan

    Mick;
    You may have the basis here for a massive Docudrama/Mockumentary, filmed right here in the big paintshed.

    All you need is a grant from Nelson`s DCAL and you can start choosing your leading actors. You could call it NIWatergate or WatergateNI.

    You could be N.Ireland`s answer to GF Newman!

  • Mick Fealty

    We’d never get the funding past Nelson’s PS. 🙂

  • Drumlin Rock

    FJH, Connor has had a pretty teflon image at DRD to date, so naturally as a Unionist I would be quite pleased if some of this rebounds on him, and indirecly SF, somehow Catrina has got away with being a special case so far, but if imcompetence is starting to show in other ministers.

  • Sam Flanagan

    lol

  • Not surpsied

    Guys, guys, grown up Minister/MLAs, are we for real? grown up civil servants?

    Any analysis of the current political system at Stormont show several things;

    1. Our MLAs and therefore Ministers are mostly incompetent and not up to the task of Governing. By the way, the recent substitutes are even worse on the whole
    2. Most senior NICS resent the passing of direct rule when they were in charge and this type of activity was their raison d’etre.
    3. it’s doubtful that the practices being highlighted in DRD are exclusive to DRD – the only difference in this case is that there has been an expose – undoubtedly for some reason we don’t see just as yet

  • It’s all rather mundane this carry-on. A few quango whores and an umpteen thousand pound per year civil servant gets the bullet. Bit like the attitude to the gangsters in the Free State, as long as they keep bumping each other off nobody really cares.

    As for the DUP bipartisanship, Mick is probably correct when he described it as a ‘default’ position as I expect it’s taken this long to track Robinson down to his Florida holiday home for him to give the go ahead.

  • Cynic

    Oh what fun we can have with the title for this epic:

    A Bad Day to Go Fishing

    A Convenient Truth

    Artificial Intelligence (the negative version)

    Bad Influence

    Bandiditos

    Basic Instinct

    Carried Away

    etc etc etc

  • Cynic

    And why all the fuss. Sure Education has been an even bigger shambles for much longer

    Expect Gerry to come out tonight and express his ‘total confidence’ in the Minister

  • Drumlin Rock

    was about to say the paint shed would be about right as Civil Servants are usually about as interesting as watching paint dry, but then I remembered “Yes Minister”, just imagine an episode where Sir Humphry is “suspended” and Jim Hackett is torn between defending him and saving his own neck…
    nope I cant imagine it either, and that is the teritory we are in, virtually unprecedented!

  • just sayin’

    There is always at least some political capital to be had for the DUP in attacking an SF Minister. It “plays well with the troops”, acts as a barrier against the TUV’ers and also appears to keep the UU off balance (McNarry was late and pretty ineffective again).

    If the DUP have any wit [and I leave space here for all of the well rehearsed comments from all sides in answer] then they shoudl focus on what the actual issue is (or at least appears that its likely to be).

    That issue relates to the interface between elected politicians and their “mere functionaries”. There has been a series of questions hanging without comprehensive answer for some time around the actions of officials, IRT members and so on that raise concern. It may well be that whatever passed between Murphy and Priestly yesterday gave an answer to one or more of those questions and it was that which caused Murphys abrupt u-turn.

    If civil servants have been “at their work” then the DUP should ensure that is their target not least because its very much in their interest too. The fact they can have a populist sideswipe at SF in the process should only be a bonus (to them).

  • Mick Fealty

    Mundane? Tell me about it. My head hurts, and I cannot count the number of times I’ve seen people’s eye’s glaze over when I tell them about ‘this great story’.

    If it can do for a Perm Sec, and force a Minister to turn on his heels in 24 hours, it is not small beer. Time to get your lads to start stepping up to the mark!!

  • iluvni

    Mk Flt,
    I’m keeping an eye on the whole game.

  • Drumlin Rock

    Can we also add DARD where Michelle is merely a puppet of her department, she has taken few decisions apart from the farce of the Farm Modernisation Scheme with farmers Queing overnight in the streets, and is now replacing it with a blatantly sectarian handout.

  • Drumlin Rock

    As they say, make hay while the sun shines….
    but def better to focus on main issues,

  • Mick, Michelle’s ‘As Vice-Chairman of the Committee I had already asked for an urgent meeting with the DRD Minister’ isn’t dated but would appear to appear to pre-date that brown stuff timing.

  • medillen

    Is there an election on the way? and are some people getting nervous I wonder?

  • I’m told that the Committee for Regional Development (CRD) may be meeting this Friday ie in two days time.

  • This Is Spinal Caps.

  • Mick Fealty

    If I’d have taken your *cynical* advice at the start, I would not have bothered… Just as well I didn’t..

  • Mick Fealty

    M,

    Don’t make the same mistake as the Minister did on UTV Live and interpret questioning with political attack. The sooner the Minister is the clear the sooner the committees can get down to finding out what happened.

  • Don’t all jump on me – I’m just second guessing answers to the questions:

    ….what, if any, new information came to the Minister’s attention.
    There will be a neat circular reponse to this – presumably the Minister will identify some element of UTV narrative that was new to him (or even contradicted what he had been told).

    We need to establish if the Permanent Secretary was acting on his own instincts or was he taking any Ministerial guidance?
    That will produce a he said/she said answer that no-one will agree on (unless there is proof that the Minister was not being properly advised of what was going on).

    Another serious question is why the Minister moved so quickly to sack the four non-executive directors without checking the activity between the Department and the Review Panel.
    Is ‘checking the activity’ normal – or is that what you expect Perm Secs to do for you?

    The Minister is ultimately responsible for his Department and this situation did not develop overnight. We have witnessed the sacking of the four non-executive directors and now the Permanent Secretary of DRD has been suspended. This seems like a Department out of control.
    By definition is the suspension not supposed to have brought the department back under control of the Minister (as evidence emerged to suggest that it was not under his control)?

    I don’t think that statement is a break with a bipartisan line (if there was one – I just thought the DUP were hanging back to see how it played out). It’s smoothing over the angst among the other PSecs and higher grades. I would have thought that was an obvious follow-up to expect after the suspension yesterday. The issue of ‘checking activity’ is the clue – it’s pushing the blame onto Ministers for following advice from their PermSec.

  • medillen

    Can we nail this U turn in 24 hours lark, the programme interview was recorded a week before it was broadcast and no where in the interview did Conor Murphy say he backed Paul Priestly.

  • medillen

    I am not Mick, I am referring to Drumlins focus on Sinn Fein Ministers and reminding people that there is politics at work her also, so do not fool yourselves that this all about getting answers.

    BTW I think Conor Murphy is playing a blinder and this episode shows how politics in the north is beginning to change forever.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Ahem “There was nothing going on behind my back”

  • just sayin’

    Now clearly the Yes Minister parallels are running wild already, but it does appear to me to be a case of the episode on ‘need to know’.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the conversation with the Minister centred on him pressing PP on what he needed to know that he didn’t already know – particularly what is going to come out in the next few days and weeks (e.g. from FoI requests).

    Clearly the Murph has managed to put PP in a position where he has had to make him aware of e.g. the Dixon letter issue (but I am sure there is more).

    In which case well done the Minister!

    From the jigsaw pieces we can make out, my guess is that PP was running solo a fair bit. If lots of his actions were under Ministerial blessing I think things would have played out differently.

    One of the next big issues is going to be IF Priestly goes completely, on what basis will it be. There will be hell to pay if there is the usual £1/2m sweetener and a polite farewell. If Bruce Robinson threatens actual disciplinary meausres I would have thought PP would resign rather than face the indginity. When it comes to taking action against someone as senior as a Perm Sec, its all or nothing. A Perm Sec with a significantly blemished record simply can’t function because of the need for complete confidence between a Minister and his most senior official.

  • medillen

    If something is going on behind your back, how do you know about it. He was responding to a question that is really impossible to answer. He obviously answered trusting in the professionalism of officials around him, that now seems to be question and is why, I assume that on reciept of new information from PP by telephone yesterday made his assessment of his position.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Perhaps he should that telephone conversation *before* Ihe was interviewed, and in person…

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    The incompetence of any minister will never be an issue. Indeed if any mister (Ruane notably and even more notably Robinson) is attacked it only has the effect of circling the wagons.
    Notwithstanding Robinson losing in East Belfast (not a competence issue anyway) no minister is going to lose his/her seat.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘You could call it NIWatergate or WatergateNI.’

    And who do you imagine gets to play Deep Throat? 😉

  • Samora Machel showed the way to deal with Ministers and Heads of Department. In his “Offensiva Politica e Organisacional” he moved 10% of the civil service into an organisation investigating corruption and inefficiency in the other 90%.

    He also started at the top. The head of the state airline was found to be hoarding goods that he thought were too good for ordinary Mozambicans (like blankets). He was dismissed, sent to Niassa province, given a hoe and a knife, and told to grow his own food.

  • William Markfelt

    How much more black can it get for the DRD and NIW?

    None.

    None more black.

  • William Markfelt

    Elvis died 33 years ago yesterday.

    In the context of this thread, a bunch of Elvis titles would be much more apposite.

    I give you…

    ‘Suspicious Minds’

    ‘Alright, OK, you win’

    ‘Bigger they are, harder they fall’

    ‘Clean up your own backyard’

    ‘Dirty, dirty feeling’

    ‘Such an easy question’

    ‘Fool, fool, fool’

    ‘He’ll have to go’

    ‘How do you think I feel?’

    ‘I apologise’

    etc, etc, etc. There are hundred to choose from. Add your own.

  • Sam Flanagan

    Wiiliiam;
    If the focus of attention stays on this matter there could be a number of Deep Throats.

    Do not forget the sectarian element in all of this, it will look bad to the Unionist electorate if Fred Cobain and co are seen to let Murphy of the hook due to incompetence, negligence, complicity or generally being seen to be soft.

    Friday`s meeting should prove very interesting, perhaps Fred will be cultivating a Deep Throat of his very own before then?

  • Cynic

    Mick

    I think this should be put up for a Paul foot award

  • Cynic

    Seriously!! It should and her’s the application form. Its one of those weird cases where you have to apply yourself

    http://www.private-eye.co.uk/pictures/paul_foot/2010_entry_form.pdf

  • Cynic

    What are you suggesting? A hermit’s hut on Slemish? Walling up in the Stormont Cellars, forced to listen to old recordings of speeches by Papa Doc and DeValera?

  • Cynic

    Real sense of urgency then!

  • slug

    That argument that the competence of a minister never being an issue certainly does not work on the unionist side of the fence – we would change our vote if a minister were incompetent. And Peter Robinson’s family’s misdemeanours certainly saw them off in May!

  • Doire_Abu

    Medillen – if I am not mistaken Conor Murphy was the first person who brought party politics into this by inferring in Monday’s UTV prog that the 2 SDLP PAC members, Dallat and McGlone, had some ulterior motive in asking questions about this. He conveniently ommitted to mention, of course, the role of that other SDLP stalwart, Dawn Purvis. The same has been repeated on this site. I can’t recall by whom.

  • William Markfelt

    Sam,

    I’ve made a passionate plea for the non-sectarianising of this matter on another thread.

    If it goes there we, the little people, lose. And those who DO attempt to sectarianise it need to be reminded that they will have failed us.

    Sadly, Martian O’Mulleoir (it’s the Brits fault) and Jim Allister (it’s SF/IRA’s fault) appear to be ignoring this with various gormless statements but I trust the contributors to SOT will ignore this sort of bollocks and stay focussed on the main course.

    I want, need and demand a properly run NIW and an open and honestly run NIW. We all do. I want, need and demand an honest, open and transparent NICS and all of its departments and agencies. THAT, to me, is the primary issue (and the primary reason for my posting here).

    Having watched this all unravel over a few weeks (more, for those of you here longer than I) and seen continued pressure here and in other media outlets drive this story toward a partially satisfying next stage, I would hate to see that flounder on mere, stupid, simple, simple-minded sectarianism.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘it will look bad to the Unionist electorate if Fred Cobain and co are seen to let Murphy of the hook due to incompetence, negligence, complicity or generally being seen to be soft.’

    My analysis would be that Conor Murphy isn’t on a hook and has been neither incompetent, negligent, complicit or soft.

    He has been taken for a ride by DRD and made mistakes. He’s human, so what? I don’t agree with analysis elsewhere on SOT that he has played a ‘blinder’, but he certainly isn’t on a hook.

    This is a young administration, learning on the job. Mistakes will be made. In Murphy’s case, they have, but he appears (as things stand) to generally be attempting to put it right. For that, regardless of political hue, we all need to cut him some slack. At least he has had the balls, despite the mistakes (and I’ve criticised his hokey-cokey PR tactics) to keep trying to put things right.

    Right now, Murphy personally has no questions to answer (other than to himself for missing the bad vibes others were feeling). And if Cobain or anyone else thinks there’s political capital to be gained, he’s a fool.

  • William Markfelt

    \forced to listen to old recordings of speeches by Papa Doc and DeValera?’

    Fuck, no.

    The Rev Willie McCrea or Coldplay would be enough.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “It’s A Matter Of Time”
    “It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie