The fall of Paul Priestly.

To most people including journalists stories about NI Water were a big yawn. For the greater part the story of the goings on in NIW was being addressed by Jamie Delargy of UTV(who is encyclopaedic on this subject), Martina Purdy of the BBC and Mick Fealty of Slugger O Toole.

For months an unknown businessman Declan Gormley who was a non executive director of NIW had been seeking to connect with journalists to highlight what he saw as an injustice visited upon him when he was dismissed after a report was delivered to DRD minister Conor Murphy which addressed the awarding of ‘roll over contracts’ among other matters.

To Jamie Delargy Gormley made sense and he pursued this story like a man possessed.

All this time Mick Fealty was rattling Civil Service cages at Parliament Buildings with the latest non profit making missive on Slugger O Toole.

At the week-end UTV started to promote the Julie O Connor/Delargy NIW exposee to be aired on Monday night.

There was tension in the air in Parliament Buildings throughout the day among senior civil servants on Monday with one key player making herself scarce when I sought to cross examine her.

The structure of the UTV programme was curiously idiosyncratic but now we know why. It was a legal minefield and the programme makers covered their backs in giving Conor Murphy all the time he needed to answer claims made in the programme.

He contended his action in removing the directors of NIW was justified speaking several times about “wrongdoing.”

The strength of the programme was the weight of evidence which surfaced to underpin claims made by Delargy.

The substance of the charges levelled went effectively unchallenged at Executive level.

It was clear however that Tuesday morning started out with the upper echelons of the civil service gearing up to shore up Paul Priestly the Permanent Secretary of the DRD central to the television output.

Utterances from the SDLP’s Patsy Mc Glone and John Dallat in the early part of the day were deemed by Sinn Fein as gratuitous and amounting to an attack on a Sinn Fein minister.

As far as Declan Gormley was concerned at last through the UTV programme he had managed to get his point across that there was more to what had happened to him than met the eye.

For almost a month at least two journalists, one in the BBC and Jamie Delargy of UTV had been seeking to evidentially stand up a story about a letter or missive forwarded to the Public Accounts Committee on Phoenix Gas headed note paper and in the name of Peter Dixon which allegedly had the finger prints of a senior civil servant on it from within DRD.

On Tuesday morning it is reported Declan Gormley briefed Mitchell Mc Laughlin of Sinn Fein about a reported correspondence from Paul Priestly to Peter Dixon of Phoenix Gas who had been a member of the Independent Review Team established by Priestly to investigate NIW’s workings.

In the course of Tuesday morning we are told Gormley framed a question for the office of FOI.

He was very specific in stating the timing and the date of the email of which he was now seeking sighting.

He was reportedly advised the said correspondence could not be located. Gormley was increasingly specific in articulating the substance of that which he was requesting.

Sinn Fein was now pro active on the case. They were hot on the hunt for something explosive.

The head of the FOI office realised something was amiss and procedurally the Head of the Civil Service Bruce Robinson was alerted.

A conversation ensued between Paul Priestly and Bruce Robinson.

Priestly reportedly bared his soul. There is a suggestion at the end of his exchange with Mr Robinson that he hoped an appeal to his boss Conor Murphy’s humanity might rescue him from ignominy.

He was barking up the wrong tree.

Priestly reached his boss by phone but Mr Murphy was no longer standing by his man as he had done less than 48 hours earlier on UTV.

About three O’Clock on Tuesday I was advised Mr Priestly’s capacity to remain in his post was rapidly diminishing.

In the wake of the terse conversation with Priestly Conor Murphy called Bruce Robinson and told him Mr Priestly’s position was no longer ‘tenable.’

He alerted Robinson he would be issuing a statement to this effect.

The Head of the Civil Service accordingly announced that Mr Priestly was being ‘suspended.’

There is speculation that the Public Accounts Committee will attempt to drive a horse and coaches through what some members fear is ‘a cosy cartel.’

  • Pigeon Toes

    “In the course of Tuesday morning we are told Gormley framed a question for the office of FOI.

    He was very specific in stating the timing and the date of the email of which he was now seeking sighting.

    He was reportedly advised the said correspondence could not be located. Gormley was increasingly specific in articulating the substance of that which he was requesting.”

    How come he doesn’t have to wait 20 days like the rest of us, to be told the can’t find the stuff or that he is being “vexatious”?

  • Benjamin

    Excellent summation Eamonn. Now that PP is rightly on his way out, I think it would be useful to have a similar summary on Laurence Mackenzie’s involvement and the specific questions that he has to answer. From my point of view he is as culpable as PP having started the whole game by demanding that the Board go.

  • Ah, my old chum Julie was involved. Had thought she had a bit quiet since the UTV cutbacks, good to see they had the sense to retain her talent.

  • “which allegedly had the finger prints of a senior civil servant on it from within DRD.”

    The fingerprints of the Minister have also been found during the course of the ‘independent’ review, according to Sam McBride’s article in the News Letter.

    Stormont gates have been rattled for several years now about problems inherent in in-house investigations by Government departments when a supposedly independent body like the NIAO could be directing investigations.

    The Dixon review follows on from an earlier Hillyard review into NIW affairs. In each case, the DRD set the terms of reference and selected the members of the review team. That’s not my idea of independence and the MSM could have been paying closer attention – instead of yawning 😉

  • Mick Fealty

    Because he had them by the proverbials.

  • Mick Fealty

    See my latest post Nev, That’s another tree mate. We should all be look for the wood.

  • Jay

    I like the sound of a “Permanent Secretary” job , where can I apply?

  • Pigeon Toes

    Seems Tuesday was the day for DRD admitting that very specific damaging emails weren’t on the system.. .;-D

  • Mick, woods are populated by trees. I’m doing my best to clear away some of the undergrowth that apparently prevents folks from seeing them 🙂

  • Pigeon Toes

    http://blog.procurement-excellence.com/northern-ireland-water-the-plot-thickens/
    “All this has come out through one of the non-executives defending his reputation, FOI requests and excellent investigative work from blogs like Slugger O’Toole and UTV. (It’s hard to see ITV in England or Wales even attempting this sort of story by the way). It does strike me that the political situation in Northern Ireland with devolution is leading to a very healthy scrutiny on issues such as the role of government Departments and the nature of ‘indepdendence’. I wonder how many ‘independent’ Whitehall reviews get published without officials or Ministers having some ‘input’? Would the English media take the same interest as UTV if this had all happened in London?

    But remember, it all started with poor procurement policies and practices. So:

    Who authorised the single tender ’share of savings’ contract that paid out on the basis of ‘identified savings’ (would have been better practice if it had been implemented savings) and has ended up with a consulting firm charging £1.5 million for their work (according to the independent report)?
    Why did the independent report not identify who signed off that contract? (It wasn’t the non-execs, that’s for sure).
    Did anyone realise that the value of the contract (way over the EU OJEU limit of course) might be so large because of the share of savings basis ?
    How many days of consulting work were actually done for that payment?
    Why was that firm selected? (The Head of the firm according to the Belfast Telegraph was previously on the management board of the Water Service, NIW’s predecessor organisation).
    How much of the £23 million ‘identified’ procurement savings proposed by the consultant have actually been realised by NI Water?
    And has the “further invoice for £888,000 based on Contractor A’s calculation of the savings and interest to date on the claims identified” (quote from the independent report) been paid yet?
    I would stress there is no suggestion of any impropriety by the consulting firm, but it’s all got very high level and political while these fundamental procurement questions are still unanswered as far as I can see.”

  • I am puzzelled by this one, it is hardly earth shattering news that government inquiries are stitch-ups, nor that ‘friends and family’ play a prominent role in how things are done in the north and the UK as a whole.

    Pigeon points out in the link to the blog, it all started with poor procurement policies and practices. Seeing senior civil servants disciplined may be for some great fun, but surly the real question is how did the money flow?

  • Pigeon Toes

    Why did the independent report not identify who signed off that contract? (It wasn’t the non-execs, that’s for sure).

  • Pigeon Toes

    Sorry forgot quotation marks

  • Stool Pigeon

    Sad – Very Sad – the attention this story gets is a joke, NI is about to disintegrate and become the laughing stock of Western Europe – An economic wilderness for decades, yet meanwhile there is a perverse facination about watching one of the few decent civil servants who put passion before pension get the tom tack.

    Why can’t this be dealt with in a sane and adult way – slap on the chops, knuckle down and get on with your job – suspension – what a joke.

    Imagine if the real world ever bothers to look in on this non issue – Will any Ministers refusing to discuss the most imprtant budget in history get the same treatment – I doubt it ‘coz they’re perfect aren’t they

    Sorry but get a life and focus energy on something important

  • Why did DRD mislead The Consumer Council over NIwater appointments ?
    http://politicsni.wordpress.com/

    Just spoke to the Consumer Council – the game is a foot !!

  • Mary Creevy

    If it’s the same Declan Gormley as I know he’s a straight man, and I’m glad he’s getting justice.