NI Water: Minister pushed the IRT for greater clarity…

Sam McBride has got hold of a note which reports the Minister’s view on the IRT’s initial report, asking them for harder recommendations:

In an apparent reference to the Sinn Fein minister, the note states: “CM view:

“1) IRT need to set out clearly what the problem is and deal with it in direct way!

“2) Must be clear in what IRT are saying – leave as little as pos (presumably possible) to the (illegible word); needs to be explicit!

“3) Will want to meet IRT.”

Now, in defence of Murphy, these are not directions to the IRT in the way that Priestly’s lengthy note and text suggestions were. It could more accurately be interpreted as politician asking a review team to get of the fence and say what it means.

That IRT hardened their final report along the lines suggested the by the Permanent Secretary is the nub of the question of the report’s independence and reliability. Not least when he was already plotting the axing of four Non Executives, that now, six months later, the Department has still failed to find full time replacements for.

In this case, it seems the Minister is merely doing what any politician who has to carry the can for his actions in public should do and push the team for clear findings. Lord knows they billed enough for their services (Jackie Henry, a senior partner at Deloitte and Touche was charged at £1,100 a day) to have least been expected to deliver that much.

That said, it should not detract from the reality that the Minister’s current position of defending the IRT report as above reproach is utterly indefensible.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    No “in fairness to Murphy” its not an instruction to IRT. And Murphy is on record that he asked them questions about their report….evidence based and independent and they signed up to it.
    Maybe Conor Murphy deserves just a little bit of credit for recognising that “independent enquiries” are a typical Sir Humphrey “get out of jail card” …..the Stockwell shooting in London for example. They tend to confuse the issue more than shedding light. Maybe he was not prepared to have money……quite a lot of money…spent on a “non-report” which he would have to add his name.
    Consider the membership of the IRT…….they were not exactly expecting to have to do a real report……..shafting some of “their own kind” and Id bet Felicity Houstons phone at the Appointments Commission might have been getting texts saying “I thought this was gonna be money for old rope……as usual”.
    If the IRT has assured the Minister that their report is independent…..then the allegation that MURPHYS position is not defensible goes too far.
    What can be suggested…….another IRT report….with a different membership (as highly paid as the last one)? More money for even older rope?

    Priestly appealing to Murphys humanity……I kinda like it. Effectively Priestly is saying “hey come on you didnt agree to this but you lot……elected……dont really understand how this stuff works”.
    Well now Priestly, Robinson, Andrew McCormick,, Malcolm McKibbin et al know how this stuff works from now on….so do the Ministers, so do the MLAs.
    A result.
    Next time a baby dies for the umpteenth time in the same hospital. Or a paedophile re-offends, or a whatever…..and Sir Humphrey recommends an IRT…….we might reasonably expect something akin to a report that is actually worth the paper its printed on.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Just noticed that Mr Mallie is reporting that McKibbin is the new Perm Secretary at DRD. Interesting to have been a fly on the wall when Robinson phoned him and told him.
    “Watch your back” might have been a phrase well used and “go get him!” might have been the independent professional congratulatory message from fellow senior NICS types.

  • Mick, surely the Minister’s intervention – alongside that of the PS – during the course of the ‘independent’ process is indefensible too?

  • Pete Baker

    “It could more accurately be interpreted as politician asking a review team to get [off] the fence and say what it means.”


    The minister would, obviously, have been keen to have someone to blame so he could be seen as being ‘bold’ and ‘decisive’ in his reaction, whatever the reality of the situation.

    I mean, an ‘impartial’ reader of the first draft could even have concluded that DRD was in some way to blame…

    Btw, do we know the author of this ‘handwritten’ note? Was it the minister or his SpAd?

  • Mick Fealty

    No Nev. For the reasons pointed out above. You can think that. But you have no viable evidence for reading that other than your own suspicions.


    Here’s a few questions for you. What prompted Murphy to ask the IRT were they independent? Was he suspicious? If so, what were those suspicions? And, if he was suspicious, what induced him, having asked the question, to take their word for it that they were?

  • Mick Fealty

    I *think* it was a note by Gary Fair of the Stakeholder Unit taken after a conversation with Stephen McGlade, the Minister’s SpAd.

  • Pigeon Toes
    “PHOENIX Gas has given its support to the company’s chief executive, Peter Dixon, one of the consultants whose report Conor Murphy used to justify sacking four NI Water directors.”

  • drumlins rock

    So did the minister ever meet the IRT? and if he did do minutes of that meeting exist?

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Mr Fealty,
    If I was a Minister (and as yet Ive been overlooked), I think Id be savvy enough to know that this was an “Independent” report commissioned by the usual people and made up of the usual people and appointed by the usual people with the usual result.
    Now you may have noticed Im not a big fan of these things. And being ME……Id ask them “so this is independent is it? and Id watch them squirm.
    Maybe Murphy has the same antipathy to the usual suspects (pics next month charideee function at Down Royal) . Either way if Priestly was in the room when Murphy asked the question, Im sure he would have smelled a very large rat.
    “what a strange question for the Minister ……all humanity and all…….to ask”.
    Effectively at that point Murphy distanced himself from the Report which is exactly what I would do with any “independent report”.
    Having asked the question, he was bound to accept their answer.
    As I would have also.
    But the answer and subsequent revelation is enough to blow the whole “independent report sham” out of the water.

    A result for MLAs and Ministers (yes Ministers) and Joe Public.
    Not so good for the NICS and the cadre of usual suspects that manage to get themselves on these bodies.

  • Mick, the IRT was given a job to do; clarity of reporting would or should be part of its brief. ‘Wanting to meet IRT’ prior to the publication of the report’s publication is interference with due process.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Yes he met them on 23rd February. Unlikely that minutes exist, as I understand that such procedures are not always followed within DRD.

  • So Peter got his bum skelped by Sir Gerry, saw the error of his ways and that was the end of it, from a Phoenix perspective. ;

  • Mick Fealty


    A very wise ex journalist friend told me once that you should resist the temptation to be ‘definitve’ whilst a story is working its way through.