Priestly drafted Dixon letter of complaint to PAC

The BBC are reporting, ahead of this evening’s UTV Live [added link], that they have seen an email sent by suspended NI Regional Development Permanent Secretary Paul Priestly to Independent Review Team member Peter Dixon following the 1st July PAC meeting. From the BBC report

The email sent by Mr Priestly on 2 July followed a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee. At the meeting questions were asked about the independence of a review into NIW, which led to the sackings.

It confirms that he drafted a letter which was later sent to the PAC by one of the review team, Peter Dixon.

Mr Dixon only made two changes to Mr Priestly’s draft. Mr Dixon added a threat of legal action and a line that said that the integrity of the review team had been unfairly called into question. [added emphasis]

That’s the letter Mick noted here, and which was apparently ‘received’ by Priestly on the 5th July when he forwarded it to other Regional Development civil servants.  And it’s the same letter that was subsequently withdrawn with these comments from Gerry Loughran, Chairman of Phoenix Gas

Mr Dixon was aggrieved by what he interpreted as unfair comments. He has very limited knowledge of the Assembly’s accountability processes and in particular the work of the PAC. I have now explained all this to him and he wishes me to acknowledge that, in the light of his better understanding, the terms of his letter dated 5th July 2010 are not justified and he wishes to withdraw the letter.[Emphasis added]

Now we are told that Priestly had actually drafted the letter, reportedly at Dixon’s request [Updated.  Having listened to Martina Purdy read from the email, the suggestion to write to the Chairman of the PAC came from Priestly who then “had a go” at a draft.  Adds – see below]  Just a case of “very limited knowledge of the Assembly’s accountability process”?

And what does that fact say about the relationship between Paul Priestly, the Permanent Secretary of DRD, and Peter Dixon, a member of that Independent Review Team?

Adds  And according to the UTV report

Mr Priestly’s email was copied to two colleagues and the head of the water service Laurence MacKenzie.

Mr MacKenzie has issued a statement admitting deleting the email and defended his action, saying he was not involved in this correspondence.

I’m assuming that’s Priestly’s 2 July email with the draft letter…  as the UTV report also notes

The email sent by the Permanent Secretary to Phoenix Gas chief executive Peter Dixon was deleted some time ago from the Department for Regional Development and NI Water records.

Update  In relation to my earlier update on who suggested the draft letter, the BBC have published the text of the email in question.

Peter

We spoke.

I can understand your upset and frustration about some of the events at the PAC yesterday, especially when you and your colleagues on the IRT have no opportunity to respond.

You asked for my advice and I suggested that you should write to the PAC Chairman. You asked for a first draft of a letter you might send.

I have had a go at a draft. No doubt you will wish to tailor it to your own style and to reinforce any particular points you wish to make.

Best regards

Paul

Paul Priestly, Permanent Secretary

Department for Regional Development

Updated And here’s text of the draft letter sent by Paul Priestly to Peter Dixon for PAC [pdf file]

And  Comparison with the letter sent shows that Dixon added one final sentence to the draft letter provided by Priestly

In closing, be assured that if I can establish that legal proceedings are open to me, on a purely personal basis, I will have no hesitation in taking them.

The rest of the two-page letter is all there in the draft.

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  • Mr Angry

    Interesting development.

  • William Markfelt

    Gerry Loughran said that the letter sent by Peter Dixon (the Phoneix Gas headed paper letter) demonstrated that Peter Dixon had ‘little knowledge of the Assembly’s accountability processes’, didn’t he?

    Now that we know the real author of the letter, what does this say?

  • Pigeon Toes

    Pete’s already made that point 🙂

  • William Markfelt

    Yes, there must be an emoticon for a red face here somewhere.

    Question is, do I use it, or simply CC instructions on how to use it to various figures at DRD and NIW?

  • Pigeon Toes

    Jesus
    Seriously even after the grilling they had on 1st July , they still didn’t learn?

    This gets more and more incredible…

  • Pete Baker

    I’ve updated the post to note that, having listened to Martina Purdy read from the email, the suggestion to write to the Chairman of the PAC came from Priestly who then “had a go” at a draft.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘they still didn’t learn?’

    It’s Sartre’s ‘No Exit’, isn’t it? Origin of the phrase, L’enfer, c’est les autres’ (Hell is other people).

    Three people in a room that we learn is Hell, and into which they are locked. They expect to face tortures of sorts, but no torture arrives. Instead, they begin probing each other, and then we, the audience, realise that the torture is enduring one another.

    Priestly, McKenzie and Dixon appear to be the trio torturing one another in this little existenialist yarn.

    Truly, truly, the theatre of the absurd.

  • DC

    Paul Priestly showing us the Peter Principle at work in the NICS.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Obviously in this debacle the quote has to be:
    “Peter dear, think of me, fix your thoughts on me, and save me”

  • Mrazik

    Classic!

  • Pigeon Toes

    “Skorupski’s Law states: the more vain one’s ambition, the more redundant one’s grasp of morality”

    http://www.skorupskislaw.com/website%20title.html

  • William Markfelt

    ‘Mr MacKenzie has issued a statement admitting deleting the email.

    He defended his action, saying he was not involved in this correspondence.’

    Oh, but he is. He presumably read it, and cannot ‘unlearn’ the contents of it.

    I’ve just tried to access the Hansard pdf file on PAC’s grilling of Priestly and McKenzie, to check their responses before PAC, in light of what is emerging. Curiously, it appears to have been taken offline.

    Significant?

    http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/record/committees2009/PAC/100701_GovernanceofNIWater.pdf

  • Atticussed

    If my understanding of this confusing scandal is correct, Mr Priestly enjoyed the Minister’s full support after he was accused of interfering in an independent review. However, once he was accused of involvement in a letter criticising 3 politicians, the Minister decided that his position was untenable.
    Does this mean that the Minister is quite content for his department to interfere in independent reviews?
    I think we should be told!

  • William Markfelt

    Paul Priestly’s email to Peter Dixon
    Peter

    We spoke.

    I can understand your upset and frustration about some of the events at the PAC yesterday, especially when you and your colleagues on the IRT have no opportunity to respond.

    You asked for my advice and I suggested that you should write to the PAC Chairman. You asked for a first draft of a letter you might send.

    I have had a go at a draft. No doubt you will wish to tailor it to your own style and to reinforce any particular points you wish to make.

    Best regards

    Paul

    Paul Priestly, Permanent Secretary

    Department for Regional Development

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-11042926

    Truly astounding that this is presumably done through DRD email channels, and tagged as ‘from the DRD’.

  • Pete Baker

    Thanks William.

  • Damian O’Loan

    You can get the html at least by googling the link you posted. Or ask Mick for my email address and I’ll send it as Word doc.

  • William Markfelt

    Cheers, Damian.

    I have been able to access it in video form via the BBC, so I’m listening back to it right now. There’s a couple of things I recall from reading it that now don’t seem to make for a great deal of ‘honesty’, but until I read/hear what they say, in respect of how this week has played out, I can’t comment.

    To be fair, I’m not certain they said what I recollect I THINK they said, hence the need to check before commenting further.

    McKenzie’s body language is strange. Lots of waving on July 1st. Lots of drowning since.

  • Mike Scott

    The email suggests there was an attachment. Do we have that, in order to compare the two drafts?

  • You can find a copy on the Scribd link on NALIL blog.

  • William Markfelt

    As reported elsewhere on Slugger, it seems Dixon’s only addition was the legal threat to the MLAs on PAC, so I would assume that Priestly’s draft was as that mailed by Dixon, minus the legal threat.

  • Mick Fealty

    Copies of both coming…

  • William Markfelt

    Just picking up on Eamonn’s tweets, that ‘BBC are reporting..etc, etc.’

    I would suggest that there is enough in this hydra-headed story for the BBC to actually stick a couple of hacks on it and stop riding UTV’s coat tails.

    To report, on Tuesday, the basis of the entire UTV documentary without ever coming close to mentioning UTV was laughingly crass.

    Here’s an idea, BBC: stick a hack onto a different aspect of it and ratchet up the pressure rather than simply looking dumb, behind the pace and generally ineffectual in your approach to it.

    Stop stealing other people’s work. It’s not what I pay a licence fee for.

  • William Markfelt

    Thanks Nevin. I’ll download it for future reference, on the basis that I think I’ll need to access it again (and again).

    Any theories as to why it would disappear from the NIA site? Simple computer cock-up, or something more mysterious? Every other link I’ve tried on the NIA website is working for me. Why not that one?

  • Now the The commissioner for public appointments has questions to answer !!

    http://politicsni.wordpress.com/

  • Pete Baker

    Updated And here’s text of the draft letter sent by Paul Priestly to Peter Dixon for PAC [pdf file – follow link]

  • SDLP Man

    PP is dead meat. He may be forced to go on grounds of “gross misconduct” or something similar and that could mean no gold-plated pension, shock horror.

    I remember a while back some clown from the First Division Association, which represents ‘senior’ civil servants, writing to the papers here to claim that their stellar salaries and pensions were justified as they could get more in the (non-existent Northern Ireland) private sector. Remember, guys like PP get £100k plus a year plus half their salaries as pension inflation-proofed if they serve 40 years and a lump sum of up to 150% of their final salaries.

    Up to a few days ago I would have said Conor Murphy was relatively unscathed but, as pointed out, he made a critical error in expressing “full confidence” in PP after the MLAs’ allegation of his interfering in the work of IRT.

    Sinn Fein’s ministers are looking very much under pressure at the moment. Caitriona is unspeakable, Michelle is in deep do-do after the threatened EU fine over the horse mussels issue, and this following after the massive EU fines levied after the false grant claims.

    Now, I wonder, who will put in the public domain the name of the very senior civil servant who tried to physically prevent then-Social Development Minister Ritchie enter the Assembly chamber to make a statement at the time of the UDA CTI controversy? It’s a good job for him SDLP is a non-violent party, else her advisor, who is about 6’4″ and built accordingly, would have been justified in punching said civil servant’s lights out.

    Better still, name the Irish government minister who rang Margaret to bawl her out for not giving the UDA their money, until she told him to fcuk off?

    Overall this could be a good chance to re-build and downsize a senior civil service bloated by nearly four decades of arrogance and incompetence under direct rule. It has to be done with integrity and adherence to the highest standards of corporate governance. I’m not optimistic for, as I’ve said before, this place is rapidly becoming Mississippi and Alabama in the 1930s under the UDA/Sinn Fein carve-up.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘Finally, I have to say that if this is how one can expect to be treated for having a sense of civic
    duty and agreeing to assist in a review of what have been demonstrated by the evidence to be
    deplorable procurement activities in the public sector, then I for one will be slow to step up to the
    mark in future.’

    Hopefully, they’ll be slow to ask him.

  • William, there was a hiccup with the link previously but this time it looks as if the document has been taken down. Neither the HTML nor the PDF form is accessible. The alternative route to the document is also no longer available even though another document for July 1 is present.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘He may be forced to go on grounds of “gross misconduct” or something similar and that could mean no gold-plated pension, shock horror.’

    Won’t happen. The ‘ill health’ card is no more than a headache away.

    In fact, for those of you who do that FOI thing, it might be interesting to keep an eye out for emails scooting between key figures relating to matters of ‘health’, both in the cases of Priestly and McKenzie.

    I think we need to be totally certain that advice regarding the ‘health’ ploy isn’t dispensed and if it is, mark the dates.

    I have full confidence that the NICS will do all in their power to feather-bed Priestly’s early retirement (full pension, sick note to prevent appearance before PAC) and we all need to be aware of this and stymie any attempt for this card to be played.

  • Pete Baker

    And Comparison with the letter sent shows that Dixon added one final sentence to the draft letter provided by Priestly

    In closing, be assured that if I can establish that legal proceedings are open to me, on a purely personal basis, I will have no hesitation in taking them.

    The rest of the two-page letter is all there in the draft.

  • The document clone on scribd comes up on a Google search for ‘Northern Ireland Audit Office Memorandum on Governance of Northern Ireland Water’

  • Mrazik

    Better still, name the Irish government minister who rang Margaret to bawl her out for not giving the UDA their money, until she told him to fcuk off?

    Is that why she’s lumped for Labour?

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Oh the SDLP is a very violent party ..;)
    Did not a very senior figure draw a weapon when surrounded in a phone box at Stormont?
    Did not a senior SDLP figure wave his revolver about at a party meeting in West Belfast saying “you b***ards” dont know the pressure we are under”.
    And no party conference circa 1970s was complete without a punch up.
    Perhaps youre too young to recall the good old days.

    Still youre right about the substantive issue. Dead meat indeed. But I reckon that he will be able to leave with a deal…..he will be appointed to a few NED type things himself over the next few years. Not to mention a few consultancies quite possibly with some party political hacks and local journalists.
    He is part of an inner circle….and those people look after their own. Destitution does nt await.
    More likely a doctors certificate showing high stress levels…”acted in good faith”, “misguided rather than malicious” you know the sorta stuff…….after all he must have heard enough politicians of all parties say some stuff about their “colleagues” that would fill a large paperback in Waterstones.
    Nope……he will slip into quiet obscurity…..with pension intact.

  • Neville Bagnall

    Not quite. It would appear the Minister changed his mind after Mr. Priestly admitted drafting the letter. Its just taken some time for the draft to emerge into public.

  • Neville Bagnall

    See http://sluggerotoole.com/2010/08/19/the-fall-of-paul-priestly/

    FYI, moderators, that article isn’t tagged despite being an important timeline summary

  • Pete Baker

    No offence, Neville.

    But if I thought that post was significant, instead of the result of lobby [ie party political] briefings, I would have linked it.

  • SDLP Man

    FJH

    I bet I’m at least as old as you and I won’t engage with you other than to say you’re a gossipy auld wan who has nothing substantial to say about anything. As you perfectly well know, it was never obligatory for SDLP representatives to give unambiguous support to the “armed struggle”. You know perfectly well the substance of the point I’m making, that the SDLP never killed or knee-capped or hammered people with hurley sticks or had an armed wing, etc.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘this time it looks as if the document has been taken down.’

    And I’m wondering why.

    Eamonn referred to legal eagles burning the candle in one of his tweets. I’m speculating if it is missing at the request of Priestly’s solicitor (I assume he has appointed one).

    I’d keep an eye on the video too, as it may also go missing in action.

    Of course, it may be that NICS solicitors have demanded the pdf came down. ‘Prejudiced investigation/trial’ would be the most obvious explanation, as the appearance before PAC would form a central part of ‘evidence’.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Actually youre about eight years older.
    Interestingly you dont seem to contradict anything I say. But if you do actually read just about anything Ive ever written about the SDLP you would know that I have oft drawn attention to their non violence and any casual glance at my post in this thread would have signalled that I was not particuarly serious.

  • Pete Baker

    Guys

    Can we focus on the actual topic?

  • Mike Scott

    Christ, can the SDLP not leave even this thread alone without turning it into a “we never shot anyone” argument?

    And isn’t Nigel’s name already out there over that issue?

  • The Beagle

    I just sort of wonder, in this whole debacle, if this is not symptomatic of the culture within the DRD. I’m thinking specifically of the anti-railway bias that permeates that department, and how *any* investment in the rail network has to be dragged out of the DRD kicking and screaming, and where the phrase “reopening lines” is a dirty one even where there is a demonstrable market and catchment area. Take a look at this whole “Rapid Transit” nonsense, which is essentially a stylised bus. Hmm…

    The whole thing, like this letter written by Priestly, screams contempt for the political structures at Stormont, and how dare these politicians tell us what our priorities should or should not be. It’s Yes Minister magnified all out of proportion…

  • Pigeon Toes

    But, (and again I’ve nothing to thank Paul Priestly for,bar the new scenery and no weeding) this was AFTER that grilling on 1st July)

    Why did he copy this into colleagues if he didn’t think it was all acceptable and within his remit?
    Then again , why didn’t he use a personal email address for the correspondence (other things).

    I mean FFS can anyone really be that thick?

  • Pigeon Toes

    (other things)
    (amongst other things)

  • Pigeon Toes

    Beagle
    A senior civil servant (guess which dept?)complained before 2007 that he wasn’t looking forward to restored devolution as there “would be too much interference”

    I guess he was right…

  • The Beagle

    Hmm… very surprising, I’m sure… LOL!! I hope the politicos go through the DRD like a dose of salts. It’s been a long time coming, but I suspect that they won’t and the opportunity will pass to clean the place out… 🙁