NI Water: PAC chair complains about leaked report to UTV…

As Pete noted earlier, the chair of Stormont’s Public Accounts Committee, Paul Maskey is not best pleased that a copy of that committee’s draft report has found its way into the hands of Jamie Delargy of UTV.  Not surprisingly, since as Maskey points out, it is not yet been official adopted by the committee.

Mr Maskey is on record as saying that in his role as PAC chair he has to leave his political baggage at the door. Yet as Martina Purdy has pointed out, he was running party statements supporting the Minister on the NI Water story at the very same time his committee was actively investigating the same matters during the summer.

Hardly consistent with that supposed non partisan role.

It’s perfectly legitimate for the chair to question the leak of his committee’s draft report. Although it is ironic he should complain so publicly when his own party’s minister felt it was appropriate to sack four non executive members of the Board on foot of emerging data from an internal audit, which was only finalised months afterwards.

There has already been one case in this story where the Department has sought to lean on a supposedly independent group to get the result they wanted. Mr Maskey should be very careful that he is not seen to be adding to any external pressure on his committee to go lightly on his own Minister.

Rather we would ask him to pay re-read what we said last summer shortly after Slugger first stumbled upon this story:

As member of the same party as the Minister, PAC chair Paul Maskey may feel some natural reluctance to press the committee’s case as hard as he might otherwise feel inclined. And his party will no doubt come under external pressure from some of the parties involved. But he’s not the first Stormont MLA to find himself in that position.

He should try to seize to the initiative and lead his committee’s charge from the front. Any embarrassment (and we don’t believe it would be anything more than that) caused the Minister should come second to ‘doing the right thing’.

Every turn in this twisting story has relied on information those in the establishment would rather have kept hidden. As Jamie Delargy makes clear the PAC’s own draft report asks some very serious questions of those institutions whose job it is to keep those folk up to the mark.

After his one way gamble on the high profile sacking of those four Non Executive Directors, Minister Murphy is now down one Permanent Secretary and one Chief Executive. As Krzysztof Wodiczko has noted:

I left  in search of democracy and found it was more like a phantom always shifting and constantly lingering on the horizon. Once it is given to someone, it changes. In fact, it needs to be remade every day. It requires the consistent disruption of silences and the [utterance] of things that people do not want to hear.[Emphasis added]

Congratulations to Jamie Delargy for some of the most significant and outstanding journalistic work of 2011.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty