Ni Water: Questions for the Minister…

Interesting to hear Paul Maskey push the line that his Minister took swift and decisive action on members of the NI Water Board. But if his Permanent Secretary’s position is now untenable, so too must be the report on foot of which the Minister sacked the Board. You might have thought.

As Jamie Delargy noted this evening on UTV, no one would accept a chief constable having a say in a report into the death of a child in police custody? Why should it be any different with an investigation into NI Water?

That report actually unleashed a witch hunt inside NI Water, but not DRD. Before this gets tidied neatly away under the carpet, the Minister (and/or his Special Advisor Stephen McGlade) should at the very least be asked the following questions:

  • Why was the Board put under investigation before they had had a chance to respond to the internal review detailing breaches of departmental protocol?
  • Why was no one in DRD’s Stakeholder Unit (who met with NI Water’s management 82 times per year, as opposed to the Board’s ten) put under investigation?
  • Why did he retain the one Director who had closest oversight of the Audit process, Don Price, and sack another who began work on the same day, Declan Gormley?
  • How did the Minister respond to Priestly’s email of 18th March asking to start the process of recruitment of the new Board (four days before the IRT finished taking submissions)?

And I am going to throw in two more lengthy ones from Jim Allister:

  • How was the Independent Review Team (IRT) into NIW appointed, what links existed between those appointed and NIW/DRD personnel, why did the IRT permit the DRD Permanent Secretary to meddle in its work and rewrite aspects of its report and, in consequence, is there a case for recouping public money paid to those who permitted their independence to be compromised?
  • Is there a history of abuse of power regarding supposedly independent reviews, both within DRD and other departments and how widespread is the culture which caused a Permanent Secretary to feel able to act as he did?[Emphasis added]

You can catch up on the substance of this story at UTV

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  • slug

    Officials advise; ministers decide.

    The buck stops at the top!

  • Cynic

    Allister’s questions are too vague and designed more for political effect

    I think we now need two seperate actions:

    1 a major inquiry into all that went on with the scope drawn to look at ALL of NIWs tenders over say the last 5 to 10 years ie extending back to the old Water Service days. A major independent audit should be part of this. This should all be resourced from outside NI and not led by an accountancy firm a lawyer or judge – a retired Chief Constable might be a good idea

    2 whatever the outcome of that we need to get NIW back on its feet. That means clearing the stables and getting in a new team and a new Board completely independent of the scandal and not comprising the usual political placemen. That Board needs to be given 3 months to come up with a very clear corporate governance framework that will stop this happening again. Its not rocket science but it needs people of integrity who know what they are doing. Sadly most of those wouldn’t touch NIW with a barge pole at the moment

    Left to its own devices NIW will simply wallow

  • Cynic

    Mick

    Help…when I am typing and hit Tab to move across it posts what I have written whether I ask it to or not!!

  • DC

    Yea close to that, but if the advice was wrong because the civil service got its remit wrong due to the perm sec (wrongly) believing he was empowered to interfere in an independent report then Conor Murphy has a valid excuse himself. As the minister could only ever take part in an inappropriate or wrong decision after all because of Priestly’s own actions – and misinformation.

    Nonetheless could this be the first time that a Sinn Fein politician has to make a proper apology on TV over his board sackings??

    Another precedent set?

  • Mick Fealty

    Finish writing the post and I will cut and paste it into the original piece… Not sure what’s going on there…

  • Mick Fealty

    As I have said before, that’s exactly what the NEDs might have said. Listening to PWC and Ernst and Young, there was no depiction of a wider problem, until McKenzie gets the internal review by the 12th January. By the time they get it, they are prevented from acting by the investigations of the IRT.

    Perhaps his SpAd should have read the report with a rather more critical eye than he seems to have to make an independent judgement on whether the sackings were proportionate.

    I’m afraid I see nothing suggesting they were. So, I suspect you may be right on that score. Even though it is very unhealthy to ‘future’ on any part of this story. It’s an easy way to get badly burnt.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘what links existed between those appointed and NIW/DRD personnel,’

    It is clear that Jim Allister already has a notion of what he believes the linkage is, if one reads the statement Nevin linked to on another thread. (‘Fenians’, is essentially the answer, for those of you who haven’t read it).

    There obviously are links. That much is obvious, but not necessarily for that ‘taigs under the beds’ reasoning Jim Allister alludes to. As has previously been said ‘it’s a small place where everyone knows everyone else’, so I would not wish to dwell much longer on Jim Allister’s sub-text.

    Whatever valid points he makes are simply swept away by what I would see as his paranoia.

    So let us turn to the sensible, bold type questions he asks.

    1. Is there a case for recouping money from the now compromised NIAO? Absolutely.

    2. Is there a history of abuse of power regarding supposedly independent reviews?

    Absolutely. In terms of their terms of reference, the absence of fair ‘trial’, the exclusion of witnesses (including the ‘accused’), the destruction or redaction of ‘evidence’ to disprove allegations, the witch hunts, the kangaroo courtism, the ducking stools, the tampering with of ‘evidence’ (in so much that evidence irrelevant to ‘reviews’ or investigations is presented to make a case), the feeling of the NIAO being ‘got at’ or ‘bought’ by government machinery, some of this feeling confirmed as fact by certain little details that have been emerging this past week. It’s all there. And one thing is clear. The NIAO play a central role in this and they are culpable in allowing it to happen, and their supposed ‘independence’ be compromised.

    I could have a fairly large dossier of ‘abusive investigations’, up to and including the possible illegality of the investigations involved, on Jim Allister’s desk next week. This week, maybe, if he pushed me.

    Will I?

    Doubtful. Whatever way it would pan out, Jim Allister would conclude it to be a papist plot.

    I am not, incidentally, being facetious in this regard. I could produce evidence of abuse of powers in investigations or reviews, and will, if such an Inquiry was launched. But I would not be expecting to make such info available to Jim.

    Patsy or John or Dawn, on the other hand…

  • Jj

    q3:

    Don Price was formerly head of the Northern Bank.

    At least 1 non-exec had to remain in situ, for the sake of “continuity”.

    Under devolution, the 2 non-execs appointed (2008) were both from NI, Don Price & Declan Gormley. It was a satisfying result, given the criticisms previously levelled in the press at the non-NI composiiton of the NIW Board..

    PP’s changes to the IRT report emphasised the discontinuity in governance arrangements between Direct Rule and his own period of being in charge.

    The aim was to distinguish 2 periods of stewardship of NIW.
    Thus, the removal of non-execs at MacKenzies pressure had to:

    maintain some continuity

    avoid a politically embarassing decision as regards the local appointees, made by the current Minister himself.

    If Don Price was sacked (after all, he was head of the NIW Audit Committee) that was politically charged, not least the possible headline: “SF Minister fires Northern Bank Chief”.

    If Declan Gormley was sacked, then the Minister could be seen as non-sectarian and impartial in wielding the axe. After all, the others were English and not his appointments.

    Thus, the rationale for what happened was political.

  • Wiiliam Markfelt

    B/b cut me off before I could add my congratulations to you too. I did notice your contribution during the debate on Slugger.

  • DC

    Call me a cynic, but even if Priestly is sacked (which seems within the call of duty) he will likely come back as some overpaid consultant or other.

  • Drumlin Rock

    cant call you cynic, or else we will get you confused with Cynic who has posted below here 🙂

  • William Markfelt

    ‘look at ALL of NIWs tenders over say the last 5 to 10 years’

    NIW obviously needs to be resolved, swiftly, but I believe that we are rapidly moving to the point where many other departments and government agencies need to be drawn in to examine a historical culture of flawed and suspect ‘inquiries’ into a variety of matters.

    It is rapidly becoming clear that the abuse of power is something of a cancer in the NI public sector, and a deep trawl of many different events since devolution (perhaps even before that) also need to come under examination.

    I agree with what you’ve said, bar the ‘political placemen’ comment. We are, I suspect, very attuned in NI to the political, and what that often infers in terms of tribalism, but a quick look at similar bodies in GB or RoI would demonstrate that different NEDs, quangos, whatever, could be dreamt up as ‘Tory’ or ‘Socialist’ or whatever.

    The danger, very, very much evidently, is that some people ‘sectarianise’ this, in the same way that Jim Allister’s statement on the matter pretty much runs Martin O’Mulleoir = Padraic White = Catriona Ruane = Colombian (that’s spelt with two ‘o’s Jim) = IRA.

    To do that serves NONE of us. To do that simply (to mu mind) trivialises a very, very important issue. No one should be getting off the hook here, if they’re on one, regardless of party politics. This matter simply MUST remain head and shoulders above mere sectarian politics. It’s far too important to be dragged down to that level.

    The core of the NIW/DRD story is ‘dodgy civil servants’ and their equally dodgy relationships with dodgy people. We ALL benefit from focussing on that and keeping the sectarian angles out.

  • William Markfelt

    I don’t need congratulating over anything, Pip.

    I have added a voice to the debate, with some of my commentary based on personal knowledge of how these things seem to work. Other than that, I’ve not actually done anything.

  • Easi-T

    If you are interested in the truth rather than a political agenda, then further scrutiny must be levelled at Mr. McKenzie. The impression is he is as culpable as Priestly. By the way, where is the NIW Board in all of this? Should they not be holding an emergency meeting also, rather than blogging disjointed messages from Hawaii- believe you me, there is as much heat back home. As McKensie reports to them, surely they should be sat around the table discussing his role in all of this and ensuring nothing untoward is ‘going on behind their backs’.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Who would want to be in a senior position within DRD or NIW now?

    Though I would love to be a fly on the wall…

  • Drumlin Rock

    There needs to be a divide created here between what went on at NIW and how DRD & others handled it, for no other reason that it is vital NIW can get on with the essential services it provides in NI. I have to say with McKenzie up to his neck in this mess, and the interim NEDs appointment under question the chances of a fresh start there anytime soon does not look good.
    As for the rest, that is where an in depth investigation is needed, maybe it is time to start drawing up the proposals to cut departments, ministers, boards, offices etc.

  • Mick Fealty

    But on what basis will he go? And how much will it cost the Department?

  • Drumlin Rock

    PT, think we should get you and Nevin on the board, going back to Pete Bakers first Blog on the issue in March both of you seemed to be asking all the right questions then! how much did yous actually know at that stage? and how much was from your own experiences, it would be good to hear your stories someday!

  • Drumlin Rock

    thought he had already resigned, which his board accepted, and the retraction was not accepted, grasping at straws there probably!
    There probably isn’t as yet enough to force him out, as it looks like other did the dirty work for him, but can he continue with any credibility?

  • Pigeon Toes

    DR it was just a hunch, the term “Independent Investigation” and DRD’s sudden and new found concern regarding alleged procurement irregularities ;-D

    I would hardly be Independent either as I have a few “axes to grind”

    I also doubt very much whether any one wants to hear my own experiences, having been labelled everything from paranoid nut to a conspiracy theorist.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘But on what basis will he go? And how much will it cost the Department?’

    ill health (already alluded to).

    I’ve already stated that this will be the Priestly route, because their health will be an issue regarding their future appearances before PAC. A sick note will cover their failure to answer more questions.

    Watch.

    Sick notes in place within the next three weeks (McKenzie: ‘my health has suffered’, Priestly ‘I don’t want your sympathy but it has been tough’)

    In Priestly’s case, it’ll cost full pension, payable as from now.

    McKenzie….not sure. He’ll negotiate the payment of his full contract, plus pension, maybe a share issue. Maybe a new Mini Cooper, lol.

    I’ll lay money on this.

  • Pigeon Toes

    William
    As to the bet would you settle for a bowl of champ, a sequinned cape and a pair of stick on sideburns?

  • William, I think it would be a mistake to imagine that there is just one story here.

    I’m looking at lots of jig-saw pieces in the hope of getting the bigger picture or pictures; it’s possible that some of these pictures will overlap.

    Where there are ‘irregularities’ they may come about as a clash of cultures eg private business v civil service or political ideologies eg unionist v nationalist or party allegiances eg SDLP v SF.

    I’ve sometimes found that if the focus is too tight then you can easily miss key elements of these overlapping stories.

    There is a strong whiff of cronyism and this might explain why certain MLAs show an interest in some ‘procurement’ stories but not others. I should imagine that there are more chapters to the NI Water fiasco than the Rathlin ferry saga even though quite a few of the same players have been involved.

  • William Markfelt

    I accept and agree with what you say, Nevin.

    There are a number of stories ere, each as important as the other.

    I believe I’m seeing the same jigsaws and pieces. My fear is that we dilute the main course, the NIW story, if we begin introducing the other cock ups that are evidently in play.

    That said, the Rathlin Island mess (theoretically just as important as NIW in terms of ‘departmental interference’) does have a particular resonance, as the same department and names keep recurring.

    Which is why, elsewhere on SOT, I have called for PAC to examine departmental ‘abuses’ across the board.

    The Rathlin Island ferry saga is particularly distressing, given the fact that the civil service appear to have effectively destroyed a young family’s livelihood and future.

    Again, as I say elsewhere, the human cost of departmental failures and abuses is rarely mentioned (yet). This is something that needs rectifying as a matter of urgency, as DRD ‘tactics’ involving the same players are an issue.

  • William Markfelt

    My treat, PT, if I’m wrong.

    (Champ anyway, we’ll need to find someone….a seafaring chap, maybe, to grow the sideburns and look like Captain Pugwash or Seaman Staines)

    As things stand, it’s ‘gardening leave’, something familiar to businessmen with no business to run on account of departmental/agency/NIAO ‘issues’, I expect).

    But within weeks, days maybe, I’d expect that ‘Paul can’t do PE he has a runny nose’ note to be tossed into the mix.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Might be an idea to ask if the PSNI are going to become involved.
    Malfeasance and Section 4 of the Fraud Act might be relevant.

  • joeCanuck

    Do we need to ask any questions? Surely this is all going to come out in Court Cases for unlawful dismissal?

  • “Interesting to hear Paul Maskey push the line that his Minister took swift and decisive action on members of the NI Water Board.”

    Mick, I don’t think any members of the PAC committee should be involved in this public debate. How do we know which hat they are wearing when they speak? Also, I don’t think the PAC should be chaired in those instances where the Minister belongs to the same party.

  • William Markfelt

    \can he continue with any credibility?\

    He’s toxic, DR.

    Still expecting a resignation on health grounds press release.

    Disappointingly, for my sweepstake prediction, tomorrow lunchtime is now looking less likely, because of the Priestly suspension.

    At times like these, certain figures will cling on, hoping that others’ difficulties might take the heat off. History teaches us that this simply delays the inevitable.

    I now revise my analysis of Mckenzie’s departure to +/- 96 hours of the outcome of the the Priestly ‘investigation’.

    let us hope, for poor Paul’s sake, that the TOR are fairly drawn up.

  • joeCanuck

    Yep; what they need is a Independent Review Team 😉

  • Joe, I’d be tempted to dispense with the services of the inconsistent PAC and let William and Pigeon Toes loose on the key players in this little drama – one at a time 🙂

  • Pigeon Toes

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-11016346

    “Speaking on Wedneday, Mr Cobain said “everybody’s credibility is at stake”.

    Including Cobain’s and that of the Regional Development committee, who consistently failed to scrutinise some of those Independent reports, despite statements to the contrary.

  • joeCanuck

    As a number of commenters have alluded, there is probably a deeper malaise throughout the CS. We know, even if we had never had “Yes, Minister”, that senior Permanent (now semi-Permanent?) Civil Servants can wield enormous power/influence over their Ministers, especially weak Ministers. I suspect that during Direct Rule days, the PS’s were left to their own devices and became like Chieftans, gods in their own eyes. How many “ministers” oversaw them during those days?

  • I’ve updated the NIW Executive Team minutes blog. It adds a little bit more to events on November 16, 2009 – autocracy rules OK 😉

    Did the MacKenzie-Dixon ‘autocratic’ email follow the ET (8 am?) meeting? Terminating the publication of minutes would appear to be significant; it would also be a breach of the ICO Model Publication Scheme.

  • Pink Lady

    Firstly a huge thanks to Slugger, Mick, and the key contributers for their great investigations. Just great to see proper work that does not simply accept and print stories as fed to them, hook line and sinker.

    Secondly to Easi-T, you are spot on. Laurence has much to answer for. He is quite obviously the very root of this strife through his hunger for total autocratic power.

    How can he work in any meaningful future way with the NIAUR Chief Iain Osborne – after being found to totally disrespect him so publically (ref ‘Wee Dangermouse’)?

    Let us all hope that Padraic White and the other new Non-Executives on NIW Board do their own homework and do not simply accept what Laurence tries to feed them.

    Perhaps they could speak to some of the staff about the collapse of morale and meaningfull direction under the reign of Laurence?

    NIW customers are continuing to receive service today, not because of Laurence, but inspite of him.

  • joeCanuck

    Nevin,
    Are you saying that the Minutes should have been published but haven’t been and this is contrary to what happened with previous Minutes as well as a breach of the Model?

  • Cynic

    I don’t care what their political religious or other background is provided they are TRULY INDEPENDENT AND COMPETENT

  • Cynic

    If you were on the Board of NIW, looking up or down or sideways, who would you now trust in this mess?

  • Mick Fealty

    Agreed Nevin. Using Paul Maskey as the point man for Murphy is a very stupid mistake. Whoever is in charge ought to pull him off there ASAP!!

    He’s got a job to do shortly, and it *cannot* be about defending the minister. This is just handing your opponent, huge brickbats to throw at him.

    But beyond Mitchel (who I am pretty sure has this story covered, but is also on the committee) perhaps they don’t have anyone else who understands the complexity of the situation?

  • Cynic

    EXTRACT FROM MINUTES OF DRD MANAGEMENT BAORD 13 APRIL 2010

    After discussion the Board debated a proposed change to the wording of the Departmental Risk Register in respect of NIW.

    The recommendation to the Board read

    “The wording of Risk 3: NIW Reclassification has changed from “Conflict between the legal status of NIW as a GoCo and its status as an NDPB for PE control purposes may impact adversely on Departmental budgets leading to less effective governance of the water industry” to Risk 3: NIW Governance “The complex governance environment in which NIW must operate will continue to pose very challenging hurdles to be overcome. These are likely to focus around difficult stakeholder relationships (especially with NIAUR), difficult conflicting positions between the legal position of NIW as a GoCo and the PE position of NIW as an NDPB, and managing the achievement of value for money and maintaining good governance within the company. Conflict in these areas may lead to less effective overall governance of the water industry”

    and the minutes record that

    “Paul undertook to provide alternative wording to Risk 3 – “NIW Governance”, which he felt was currently too wordy.”

    So clearly these issues were already understood and were being worked on. Indeed it is worth looking at Risk 3 in the Register at

    http://www.drdni.gov.uk/index/publications/publications-details.htm?docid=6081

    which all seems to focus merely on the financial controls not the core governance issues and is ‘owned’ by Lian Patterson the Head of Finance and Water Policy

  • Justice For NIW

    Easi – T

    You say “then further scrutiny must be levelled at Mr. McKenzie”

    How true.

    – Mckenzie receives audit report c 12 Jan [could it possibly be that Ms Brennan had shared her findings before then, maybe received some “suggested” text – not going to speculate, but an FoI would answer that question. Sorry forgot, the emails are deleted!!!!]
    – McKenzie meets Peter Dixon for one of his “coffees” about that time.
    – Meets his management team the same week before the weekend and shares the findings of this audit report.
    – Mckenzie takes a weekend chill-axing.
    – McKenzie tenders resignation 18 Jan (Monday), telling those who would listen he’d had enough and its effecting his “health” and is “concerned” about his reputation bla bla bla [violins please lads/ladies]
    – Mckenzie meets Paul Priestly 19 Jan.
    – Mckenzie sends “Done Deal” email same evening.
    – mid day Wednesday 20 Jan, McKenzie still inteds to resign
    – McKenzie withdraws resignation c 3 hours later on the same day.
    – “independent” review “commissioned” 20 Jan.

    It can’t possibly all be coincidental! Life is not that sweet.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘Independence’ is a subjective matter, Cynic.

    Although I suspect I’m not telling you anything you don’t know already.

    Sir Patrick Cormack (ex chair of the NI Select Commitee at Westminster) would, in my eyes, be one possible name (experience of how government works, experience of NI, etc).

    What we don’t need is ‘the system’ judging ‘the system’, because of a danger that it whitewashes, or at least is perceived to whitewash, ‘the system’.

    But it should certainly be a matter that the NI Select Committee casts its eye over recent events. A public Inquiry with wide-ranging TOR (rather than tightly defined references) seems like a reasonable way forward, with the public invited to outline their concerns about how government in NI has behaved in recent years across a wide range of matters, not just on NIW.

    I suspect the likes of Declan Gormley and others would be more than keen to provide testimony which helps build a larger picture (again, Nevin, Pigeon Toes and others have already skirted other issues) of how government agencies have behaved.

    However it all pans out, some voices who have previously been denied a voice must be heard.

  • Pigeon Toes

    William
    I suspect the danger of delving too deeply, for such an inquiry will be that it may open up far too many issues, and likely to go on for years a la “The Mahon Tribunal”.

    It might be enough to have the particular issues within this debacle thoroughly examined in a robust and expedient manner.
    (I doubt it)

  • Justice For NIW

    Nevin

    Don’t expect the bull to calve with this one.

    Civil Servants/Quangolanders ensure published minutes would purposely be written blandly to be painfully vague to the reader. Not sure these minutes would give great insight to what went on – not judging by previously publications.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘Listening to PWC and Ernst and Young, there was no depiction of a wider problem’

    This aspect intrigues me.

    Ernst & Young, and Mckenzie can’t both be right.

    If an autocrat like McKenzie believes so much in VFM, then he must surely have alreadylooked at Ernst & Young’s ‘failure’ to identify a problem. I’d have expected him to have noted their inability to act properly and maybe even brought their ‘failure’ to the attention of the Perm Sec.

    I mean, to have not done so would be an incredible overisght for a VFM didact. You know, maybe an IRT would need to examine Ernst & Young’s performance. Maybe even ‘sack’ them from undertaking further work to NIW.

    If none of this has been done, then it’s an alarming failure, and it might require someone or other to ‘examine their position’.

  • William Markfelt

    PT,

    I’m fully aware of the dangers that a ‘deep dive’ inquiry dilutes the main event.

    A deep delve inquiry would be more than nice, but I’ll settle for a properly convened investigation into NIW (and the DRD) right now.

    Once concluded, we can but hope that findings would point to certain cultures that have historically ridden roughshod over any recognised standards of truth, openness and accountability.

    At that point, other matters (such as the Rathlin Island contract, featuring several of the same players, from what I can gather) could take on importance in their own right.

    As the political culture, in a wider sense, cares to apologise for all manner of things nowadays, an apology for departmental/agency high handedness and lies would be a good jumping on point.

    I suspect that I, if in the position of being offered an apology for departmental/agency corruption of values (knowing that disciplinary issues would follow as surely as night follows day) I would merrily grasp that ‘conclusion’.

  • Pink Lady

    I would read all of the facts and any key factual summaries; such as Mick’s timeline – a great piece of work and a real timesaver. In particular I would give priority to first hand material such as the intended to be private and now disclosed emails and other meeting records that are available and published through press, blogs, and Slugger.

    Only when well informed would I individually speak to a range of those who have been impacted in different ways and ask my own questions;
    those sacked – such as Chris Mellor and Declan Gormley
    he who stayed – Don Price (why?)
    the NIW Directors
    The NIAUR Chief Iain Osborne
    A few Journalists – including Jamie D (who after all his research must have well balanced opinion on Laurence’s honesty by now?)
    A few key DRD staff
    A range of rank and file NIE staff (is there truth in the urban myth that some danced on tables when Laurence left?)
    A range of rank and file NIW staff (how really is the morale?).

    Only then would I be happy to decide who to trust.

    My own recommendation is Chris Mellor – who enjoyed the deep respect of NIW staff.

    Slugger is doing a good job at delivering facts. Keep it up.

  • William Markfelt

    I should add, before going to bed quite content (the NIW story going ‘mega’ relatively speaking and pressure mounting for an inquest into Dr. David Kelly’s death makes for a satisfying day)
    that I have just received an email that infers that senior management figures at another government related body are watching this with extraordinary interest, simply because one or two senior figures in that agency seem to have acted in a manner that replicates Priestly ans McKenzie,and are ‘concerned’ that PAC\s spotlight will now shine on them in due course.

  • Pigeon Toes

    William
    Excellent Smithers…

  • Yes. The detail is on NALIL blog along with the change of job title for David Gilmour from Director of Procurement to Commercial Director around the time in August, 2009, when MacKenzie’s antenna twitched. Procurement problem? Solution: change the name? The CD post was later made redundant.

  • William Markfelt

    History tells us that public bodies are very, very reluctant to have the PSNI involved, on the basis that it might lead to the legal system becoming involved.

    It would have been much, much better for the likes of Declan Gormley to have been charged with something. I’m not exactly sure what this might have been, but let us assume ‘gross negligence with public cash’ (if such an offence exists).

    To have done so would have meant that DRD/NIW would have needed to present a case in court. Production of destroyed emails, that sort of thing. Mr. Gormley would have had the right to a ‘defence’ of his actions. Currently he doesn’t really have any, and even three or four sentences on a TV programme don’t constitute a proper defence or full explanation..

    PAC have (hitherto) not allowed him a ‘defence’ either, possibly the genesis of Mr. Dallat’s ‘show trials’ remark. In fact DRD/NIW have kind of ‘perverted the course of justice’ in acting in a manner that doesn’t allow full disclosure of events on which to determine (in my opinion) and the PAC members allow this to happen. A major flaw and failing in the whole existence of PAC.

    So as things stand, Mr. Gormley stands accused, with a cloud over him, and no right of reply to the machinery of government, and no way to prove his innocence. In a proper court of law, as opposed to the NIA/PAC’s kangaroo variant, all charges dropped and his reputation clean as a whistle.

    As things stand, he is stuck with that cloud. And THAT is a matter that needs investigating and reforming as a matter of urgency. We simply cannot continue with a system where individuals are hung by government departments/agencies/utilities this way, and often on the basis of the word of an anonymous (or in this rare case, known) individual.

    Reform would need to include a right of reply to PAC (in this instance) and the understanding of expectations to proceed directly to the courts, where such allegations of wrongdoing (or more likely, no wrongdoing) can be tested before a proper court of law. And we maybe need to look at linking all of this to other mechanisms, where those accused and victimised have a right to sue for ‘wrongful accusation’. Perhaps ‘defamation’ and ‘libel’ are the best laws to cover this. Parliament needs to look at a variant of these (‘industrial libel’ as a law? ‘commercial libel’?) and offer them to the ‘victims’. With these sort of mechanisms in place it might make others more wary of tossing accusations around that have no basis in fact, but the effect of casting a cloud over people’s lives and careers).