NI Water: Robinson told Priestly IRT was a bad idea…

So Paul Priestly is effectively being investigated by his boss, Bruce Robinson. But Slugger understands that when Priestly brought the idea of an Independent Review Team to Robinson, the Head of Northern Ireland Civil Service told him directly that it was a bad idea.

So, to repeat something we’ve been asking all through this mess, how can such an investigation be seen to as independent and equitable?

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  • Pigeon Toes

    So Priestly asked his advice about the IRT for the NIW water issue?

    “So, to repeat something we’ve been asking all through this mess, how can such an investigation be seen to as independent and equitable?”


  • jon the raver

    Water water everywhere ….

  • just sayin’

    Mick I must say I have be mightily impressed with the investigation that you (and others) have carried through on the whole NIW issue.

    As you can guess from the foregoing there is a BUT coming now.

    Why on earth would a disciplinary investigation under the NICS procedures be “independent and equitable”?

    The equitable bit is provided for surely in the internal procedures. It will be designed to ensure equity including the right of appeal and ultimately through tribunals and courts if PP feels he has been hard done by.

    But it must be DEPENDENT and not independent. The primary interests to be satisfied here are those of the NICS as an organisation whilst treating the employee fairly.

    You could also have thrown in other things that it shouldn’t be such as ‘Open’, ‘Transparent’ and so on.

    Can’t agree with you on this one – both the NICS and PP have layers of protections for both sides against impropriety; its an internal procedure and must operate in that way. Any suggestion that it be tampered with would (for example) render any ensuing dismissal automatically unfair.

    If Robinson makes a hash of it then he is in the firing line.

    There must be a point where we ensure that these well-paid officials get on and do their job properly.

  • Mick can we start a new story about the New appointed NED’s i believe those appointments need to be scrutinised

    Why did Lian Patterson or Mr Priestly ring candidates ??

    Check my last email upload

    Surely because these are paid positions they should have been publicly advertised ?

  • DC

    Well HR Connect can decide. Its contract is awarded for the foreseeable future anyway so it can risk standing up to the NICS on this one.

  • Did Mr MacKenzie get his 2d’s worth in as well ?

  • jon the raver

    I think Mick and the slugger team should be commended for their fine body of work on highlighting this and bringing it to the fore


    There is so much NIW material on the site now that we are drowning – pun intended AND there is a picture of a swimming pool in the front page.

    YES the NIW/NICS/DRD story deserves coverage – but let’s not forget or forgo the randomness that made Slugger great!

    How about former TUV candidate supporting the workers sacked for racism and possibly breaking the law?

    Or human rights abuses by police issueing pictures of rioters

    Or just something other than this water torture

    Forgive me Mick – It’s because I love you that I take it out on you

  • I’ll do it for £1200 a day

  • Cynic

    The primary interests are the public not NiCS as a corporate body. NICS’s interest should be in adherence to the Civil Service Code of Conduct

  • Cynic

    I will do it for £1150

  • Cynic

    …plus expenses of course

  • I couldn’t resist the (long running) swimming pool story 🙂

  • Pigeon Toes

    You have to wonder just how deep the investigation into Mr Priestly’s running of the department.

    I suppose it will all depend on whether more revelations come out, whether more concerns are raised and ultimately whether there is any real will to save his hide.

    What would happen if Priestly were to become “unwell”?

  • Drumlins Rock

    JJ, would like to see that happen in time too, particularly the “conversations with a purpose” how are your FoI requests going?

  • Drumlins Rock

    dont worry Jon have an extremly random one to post shortly!

  • Drumlins Rock

    To be blunt if the minister says his position is “untenable” then hes finished, this investigation must not be used as a stallnig device.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘told him directly that it was a bad idea.’

    How often do we see this in many walks of life? Certain figures are told things aren’t such a good idea, but bull on regardless. And how often do these figures appear to be slaves to their own ego and/or ambition and arrogance, to the point where they believe themselves to be flameproof?

    Who can fail to remember Johnatan Aitken’s ‘with the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of British fair play’ statement that ended up in a perverting the course of justice trial and imprisonment?

    We’re wading into the very same waters here. Poisoned by ego, ambition and a feeling of being flameproof, certain figures here are following the same course of ill-advised action.

    For anyone who has followed this story in any depth, there’s the realisation that some of the players are arrogant little bastards you couldn’t like if you’d given birth to them.

    They’ve left a trail of enemies in their wake, and the old public sector mantra of ‘people will do you a bad turn because they can’, while climbing the greasy pole, is now coming to haunt them.

    There’s a whole raft of people out there taking sheer delight in the travails of some of the figures in this tale.

  • William Markfelt

    I’d do it for £1200 a month (‘netto’, if I remember my Ruud Gullitism’s correctly). And punch 40 hours a week for it.

    Seriously, we’ve got to try to get some of these ridiculous figures in some perspective and stop some of these clowns blinking at their good and unrealistic (literal) fortune.

    Real people, realistic ‘industrial wages’ to undertake these roles. You know, the ordinary folk who use NIW product, or are employed by NIW, and for whom there’s some sense of realism, rather than clowns who have just about as much experience as the average NIW user or employee in undertaking the role.

    What’s the UK’s average wage? About £420 a week if I recall correctly. So NEDs should be on something like that, on a pro-rata basis if they’re only doing two days a week, and looking at it as some sort of honour to undertake, as opposed to a cosy little mortgage payment on a bolthole in Donegal or Provence.

    And we need to appoint people with mud on their boots, not soft hands who’ve never done a real day’s work in their lives. People who’ve been up to their arse in muddy water fixing leaks on the NIW system and with some proper sense of what the company means al; the way down.

    Much of the failures of management, across the board in these things, happen because they appoint mere theoreticians with a piece of paper that says ‘business degree’ on it. Being rather old school, I’d value the opinions more of someone whose wellies have previously filled with mud, as opposed to someone with an MBA and whose head is filled with it.

  • Pigeon Toes

    The quaint expression Mr Pigeon Toes uses, is that such people “know the square root of a banana, but wouldn’t know how to peel one”

  • William Markfelt

    I don’t think it’s a ‘stalling device’ DR, but a case o going through the correct motions and procedures.

    It would be somewhat unfortunate, in an issue arising from ‘incorrect procedures’ to do the same.

    I agree that he’s finished. Murphy can’t row back from the word ‘untenable; without making his own position untenable. Priestly is toast, and we all know it.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘What would happen if Priestly were to become “unwell”?’


    He will. I’ve already outlined this elsewhere on SOT.

    It’s the public sector way.

    McKenzie has already made reference to his ‘health suffering’.

    Priestly will do the same.

    If PAC were to recall them, sick notes will be produced, and PAC hit a dead-end in respect of some o the key questions.

    I would be surprised if both men haven’t arranged appointments to the quack in the past days and played the ‘stress’ card.

    It is pretty much standard public sector procedure to avoid awkward questions.

    Retired on health grounds, and full pension.

    In a year, the stress will have lifted to such an extent that they may then be available for work on some quango or other.

    I know of one teacher (in a primary school, FFS!) who took this route, but a year later was fit enough to join the Schools Inspectorate.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Would it be normal NICS procedure to suspend a civil servant whilst an investigation into their behaviour was ongoing?

    Just asking.

  • William Markfelt

    Yes, PT.

    Mr PT is correct. I am often amazed how little practicality some of these ‘managers’ have.

    How often do we see focus groups convened to determine whether next week’s biscuits are custard creams or digestives? Or claims that decisions regarding the selection of custard creams aren’t part of their job description?

    Meanwhile, with the rain dripping out of their arse in some field in Co,Tyrone, someone with an O level in woodwork is making real decisions to real problems.

    ‘Just get the f***ing leak stopped. Now!’

  • Another interesting email from Mr Priestly

    What was stirring ?

  • Pigeon Toes

    JJ Given that it RE something is this all you got?

    Was the rest redacted?

    Plus could everyone please donate to buy JJ a scanner 😉

  • William Markfelt

    ‘What was stirring ?’

    I’ll resist the temptation to sketch out the screenplay for ‘Carry on up the Hosepipe’ that question invites and say it’s precisely the sort of furrowed-brow commentaries laid here (and elsewhere) regarding the appointments of the new NEDs.

    No advertising. Appointments of ‘mates’. And so on.

  • Sam Flanagan

    You seem to have a dislike of pomposity, arrogance, cover-up, pinstripe-suit bullies and greasy pole climbers.

    You are defintiely of the same spirit as Willie Donaldson. He wrote letters to the “society elites” using the phoney name “Henry Root.” Try

    He may give you some inspiration in your particular quest for justice.

    The only chance of the general public seeing the truth in any of this “good old boys” scandal, is if it is lampooned and satirised in some Mockumentary.

  • Drumlin Rock

    def Custard Creams

  • One week later, Paul Priestly was attending a private venture organised by Máirtin Ó Muilleoir’s Belfast Media Group/Irish Echo in New York. According to Máirtín, the PS’s expenses were paid by DRD.

  • William Markfelt

    Yes, Sam. The Henry Root Letters are on the shelves above me.

    I’m not sure any of us have any fondness for pomposity, arrogance, cover up and pinstripe bullies. Or Mini Coopers.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Someone must be held accountable for the choice and procurement of the biscuits.

    To date I don’t think the tea lady has been making the right decisions, and she often ignores my pleas for decaff,

    As you know I am lactose intolerant (that allergy clinic at the luxury spa, where we held our last stakeholder conference ).
    Anyhoo, the KPIs on biscuit choice have not been met on a number of occasions this quarter.

    I propose that it is the window cleaners fault , and I that an Independent Investigation, headed up by my old chums Messrs Mc Vittie and Kipling .is in order.
    They understand what is required of them , and you will find that they are content to carry out this work on our behalf. I’ve told them to expect a call.

    Meeting Kipling for Coffee later

  • William Markfelt

    McKenzie family motto.

    ‘Luceo non uro’ -I shine but do not burn.

    It’ll be all that f***ing NI water, I expect.

  • Something hasn’t been stirring from that time viz the minutes for the weekly Permanent Secretary Group in the Glasshouse, Stormont Castle. The last minutes were published for June 4 even though PSG continues to meet during the summer.

    Here are the references to NI Water since November, 2009:

    22 January 2010: Paul Priestly noted that an independent review was being initiated in relation to procurement within NI Water.

    29 January 2010: Paul Priestly noted that the Regulator was due to publish its determination on NI Water in the next week.

    5 February 2010: Paul Priestly noted that the Regulator had published its determination.

    12 March 2010: Paul Priestly updated on the issues around NI Water.

    26 March 2010: Lian Patterson noted that a process was being initiated to appoint interim Board members.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘To date I don’t think the tea lady has been making the right decisions, and she often ignores my pleas for decaff,’

    I say ‘get used to it’.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Nor the Weekly Business Review (WBR) meetings on DRD website since 18th June.

  • just sayin’

    You’re right – except that the code should be both an expression of the nics interest which in turn should be that of the public …. useful word ‘should’.

    PP has accusations to face. The proper means is the disciplinary mechanism. Straying from that is in no-ones interest at this stage.

    As alluded to below – odds on a sickie!

  • William Markfelt

    BBC is reporting that the Information Commissioner is now involved regarding non compliance with FOIs, by NIW.

    This just gets better and better, in a sense.

  • William Markfelt

    And the NIW board is reported, in that link, to be meeting next week. No day/hour mentioned, but I’m of the opinion it’s about 6 hours in advance of McKenzie’s resignation.

  • Keep up the good work, belfastjj. Have you got a date (and time) for the Priestly offer to McDonald?

  • Sam Flanagan

    There is nothing better than, “a bad idea” whose time has come!

  • just sayin’

    not sure in nics – common elsewhere, but usually where there is good reason to e.g. where there might be a temptation to hide evidence e.g. delete incriminating emails?

  • No sign of these NIW related stories running out of steam any time soon, William.

  • Seems the ICO would need to employ more cleansing staff to ‘unblock’ the publication of minutes and the responses to FOI requests.

  • William Markfelt

    You’re right about ‘bad ideas’.

    Tweets from someone called ‘Lorenzo McKechnie, half-Italian, half-biscuit, quarter autocrat, eighth-part Mark Wahlberg in the remake of the Italian Job’ would be a bad, bad idea.

    If only because Lorenzo might get wind of the fact that a half and a half and a quarter and an eighth don’t add up as they should. (no, it doesn’t come to ’28 million’)

    And then he’d blow the bloody doors off a series of careers and reputations.

  • William Markfelt

    Deeper, deeper and with more serious consequences at each turn, Nevin.

    Applying a bit of Fealty/UTV heat to water creates an awful lot of steam.

    NIW is now in smeltdown, and we’re going to see the appearance of a copper quite soon.

  • William Markfelt

    I’ll row away from further punning, and add that the NIW board meeting (in light of the Information Commissioner’s intervention) rather looks like heads MUST roll within NIW to stem the flow of bad publicity.

    They MUST offer up a blood sacrifice. (That’s not intended as a demand, but as a statement of the obvious).

    The clock would now appear to be counting down McKenzie’s imminent demise at NIW.

  • William Markfelt

    I shall also point out that, from what I can gather, Pigeon Toes has experience of ‘failure of compliance to FOI requests’. It will be interesting to hear what she has to say on this development.

    It will also be exceptionally interesting to hear what the Commissioner has to say on the matter, because whatever findings are made will be made applicable to all government departments and agencies, and in theory we could find various agencies inundated with repeat FOIs that, suddenly, no longer match the information previously provided or denied.

  • Pigeon Toes
  • Pigeon Toes

    “How often do we see this in many walks of life? Certain figures are told things aren’t such a good idea, but bull on regardless. And how often do these figures appear to be slaves to their own ego and/or ambition and arrogance, to the point where they believe themselves to be flameproof?”

    Yeah, they are called “children”

  • William Markfelt


    Are there any laws by which the deletion of documents constitutes a criminal offence?

    If a person or persons are found guilty of deleting documents, or withholding information under the FOI Act what, do you know, is the maximum prison sentence for such offences? (assuming that there is a jail term to which such offences apply).

  • Comrade Stalin

    It is actually entirely legal to pay someone off if they’re sick too often, or if they go on long term sick with no immediate prospect of returning.

  • Pigeon Toes

    And just as I was looking it up that autocratic bastwerd asks the question.
    “The FOI Act makes it an offence for public authorities to act so as to prevent intentionally the disclosure of requested information. Mr Holland’s FOI requests were submitted in 2007/8, but it has only recently come to light that they were not dealt with in accordance with the Act. The legislation requires action within six months of the offence taking place,”

    Now I appeal to your humanity, and please sir can I have my decaff back…The Big Boys made me do it…it’s been tough….

    See? talking about coffee, so not treating Slugger like a pub

  • Pigeon Toes

    Offence of altering etc. records with intent to prevent disclosure.
    77. (1) Where-
    (a) a request for information has been made to a public authority, and
    (b) under section 1 of this Act or section 7 of the Data Protection Act 1998, the
    applicant would have been entitled (subject to payment of any fee) to
    communication of any information in accordance with that section,
    any person to whom this subsection applies is guilty of an offence if he alters, defaces,
    blocks, erases, destroys or conceals any record held by the public authority, with the
    intention of preventing the disclosure by that authority of all, or any part, of the information
    to the communication of which the applicant would have been entitled.
    (2) Subsection (1) applies to the public authority and to any person who is employed by,
    is an officer of, or is subject to the direction of, the public authority.
    (3) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a
    fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.
    (4) No proceedings for an offence under this section shall be instituted-
    (a) in England or Wales, except by the Commissioner or by or with the consent of
    the Director of Public Prosecutions;
    (b) in Northern Ireland, except by the Commissioner or by or with the consent of
    the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Off the top of my head it’s six months imprisonment.
    Malfeasance is (I think) a life term .

  • Pigeon Toes

    OOps( the six months is incorrect)

  • William Markfelt


    We should roll that word around a little, PT.

    It’s about 15 years, in reality. But when these ‘power plays’, in the DRD, NIW or whoever get a turn, it”s important to remember that the consequences are to inflict a life sentence or sorts on the victims of these power plays.

    Some, I suspect, are already a third of the way through the ‘life’ imposed by departmental or government agency misdeeds, show trials, kangaroo courts, call them what you will, pretty much commencing the instant that direct rule ended.

    The political system essentially began to create its witch hunts the instant devolution arrived, in other words.

    Some have been uprooted, vilified, sneered at, laughed at, denied work opportunities despite never having faced trial or even been accused of anything. Others have been tried in kangaroo courts, the most recent example being NIW’s NEDs. People have faced periods of illness as a result of these actions. Stress, depression, and a cloud cast over their reputations.

    And with each little revelation in the NIW saga, it all points to a culture, and the fact that the vilified, the sneered at, were right all along in their assertions of the abuses of power being undertaken by the public sector, far and beyond just NIW or the DRD.

    For some, the life sentence goes on. There’s a human cost involved. And, thus far, no one is counting it.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Mahatma Gandhi.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Given the situation in DRD this week there at least some winners in the not too distant future…

  • Pigeon Toes

    ,”how can such an investigation be seen to as independent and equitable?”

    Mick, the thing is, until Declan Gormley started to get the information to defend himself, it “was” seen as independent.
    Which, was of course it’s function so that the department and NIW could chant” but an independent investigation found” ad infinitum.

    Tactically, it usually works, and those without Mr Gormley’s resources are usually on the receiving end of derisory comments -not least regarding their sanity.

    Brave work on Mr Gormley’s part, and more power to his elbow…

  • William Markfelt

    This claim Robinson told Priestly directly was a bad idea confuses me.

    Robinson is top dog.

    Priestly, one of his lieutenants.

    I know there’s a need for decision making in as large and as dysfunctional as the NICS appears to be, but given the gravity of what has developed, I find it odd that Robinson didn’t order Priestly to drop it, or at the very least rethink his strategy.

    The public sector appears to be a game of chess, in many respects, and it’s rather odd that Robinson didn’t ‘lead’ on this matter, but bumbled a kind of fudged response to Priestly.

    Was Robinson’s ‘indecisiveness’ to issue firm, clear orders just poor management? Or is he playing a longer game that had a specific purpose, part of which has already played out?

  • Sam Flanagan

    Do you really think Robinson is the Mikhail Tal of the N.Ireland civil service?
    “I drink, I smoke, I gamble, I chase girls – but postal chess is one vice I don’t have.”