NI Water crisis: “once this information is in the public domain, it may undermine your perceived independence…”

Following an FOI request, BBC NI’s Stephen Walker reports that the NI Commissioner for Public Appointments, Felicity Houston, has raised concerns about the OFMDFM appointments to the latest ‘independent’ review of NI Water with the head of the NI Civil Service.  That’s in addition to the Commissioner’s previously expressed concern about the NI Regional Development Minister, Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy’s appointments to the interim NI Water Board.

From the BBC report

In a bizarre twist, staff assisting Phil Holder and Heather Moorhead’s inquiry wrote to the Commissioner for Public Appointments.

In the email Phil Holder and Heather Moorhead’s team wanted to know how the non-executive directors of Northern Ireland Water were appointed – the very jobs that Phil Holder and Heather Moorhead were considered for.

In her response, Felicity Huston told the two investigators: “Both of you were considered for appointment to the interim board by both DRD – the department you are now reviewing – and Minister Murphy.”

The letter states that Heather Moorhead was on a long list of possible directors which was submitted to Minister Murphy, and Phil Holder was interviewed for the post of chair of the interim board

Felicity Houston then wrote to Phil Holder and Heather Moorhead : “Although your appointment is not regulated by me it would be remiss of me not to draw attention to this situation.

“I believe that once this information is in the public domain, it may undermine your perceived independence, or the ‘external’ nature of your review.”

The documents also show that the Commissioner for Public Appointments raised her concerns with the head of the Civil Service.

As I said of the leaked draft PAC report into NI Water

The First and deputy First Ministers clearly haven’t learned the importance of not appointing individuals to ‘independent’ reviews who “could be perceived as having a conflict of interest.”

The BBC report ends with

The BBC sent a series of questions to Heather Moorhead.

She declined to comment and referred us to the Northern Ireland Executive’s press office.

We also sent questions to the Office of First and Deputy First Minister and the Department For Regional Development.

We have not received a reply.

Indeed.

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  • The Word

    We would tend to believe the sincerity of the BBC or Pete in these matters if we weren’t to see the minister on Spotlight tonight. Again create an appearance of objectivity when the reality is somewhat different.

  • [aside]Thanks, The Word: “The panel includes David Ford, Justice Minister; Conor Murphy, Regional Development Minister; Edwin Poots, Environment Minister; and Dawn Purvis, Independent Assembly member.”

    Presumably Minister Murphy will attempt to do a little stonewalling if the theme of Pete’s article is raised[end of]

  • “haven’t learned the importance of not appointing individuals to ‘independent’ reviews”

    As you know, Pete, this is a problem that long predates the NI Water fiasco. Sadly, Ministers and their senior civil servants will continue to spend as much public money as it takes to protect vested interests; they can/will act with impunity so long as the watchdogs fail to act in the public interest.

  • Pigeon Toes

    From another drat NIAO review on another “independent review” the NIAO write to Paul Priestly (where is the Shortridge report BTW?)

    “NIAO noted there were a number of instances identified in the case where there were no paper records o meetings or discussions involving officials” This is unacceptably poor practice”

    These lines have a line through them, as has “Three allegations relating to personnel issues were upheld”….

  • And PoliticsNI have seen an FOI Request to DRD surrounding the appointment of Phil Holder DRD are refusing to provide the documents requested

    http://politicsni.wordpress.com/2011/02/25/conor-murphy-drd-refuse-to-reveal-documents-surrounding-appointment-of-phil-holder-niwater-crisis/

  • The Word

    I’m sure we’ll see him defending his brief from the attacks of three unionists. Just froth, Nevin.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “In a bizarre twist, staff assisting Phil Holder and Heather Moorhead’s inquiry wrote to the Commissioner for Public Appointments”

    Poor sods didn’t want to get tainted with this shambles either, and indeed one does have to feel some sympathy for them.If I was in their position, I would want to ask exactly those questions.

  • granni trixie

    But good for the Commissioner. She is clearly trying to be effective but has not adequate powers. Surely the next Assembley will put this right?

  • Pigeon Toes

    “Both of you were considered for appointment to the interim board by both DRD – the department you are now reviewing – and Minister Murphy.”

    But it was *their team*, why is M=The Commissioner responding with “Both of you “?

    Why does it sound like that both the individuals themselves wrote to the Commissioner seeking reassurance of their “independence”?

  • Cynic2

    even better …how was the long list compiled in the first place? From the Minister’s Facebook Friends list?

    A cosy cartel of jobs for the boys and girls. If they have any integrity they will now say that they cannot continue

  • Pigeon Toes

    “From the Minister’s Facebook Friends list?”

    And I didn’t feature?

  • PT, that’s a very muddled piece of BBC writing. Stephen seems to have got mixed up as whether he was writing about Phil and Heather or their staff – or else a sub-editor was let loose on the article.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Cynic, would it be likely that an *ordinary* civil servant would be able to protest against their given task?

  • The Word

    Yes, Nevin. You never let us down. Spotlight was a spotlight on the rehabilitation of Conor Murphy with the soft questions and the soft opposition.

    It’s good to be an SDLP supporter. Nobody ever used us. Nobody ever massaged our egos and got a softening.

    We saw a coalition of the condemned tonight. I’m glad there’s a God.

  • [aside]Softlight would be more apt that Spotlight, The Word.

    “We have not received a reply.” BBC

    The BBC has been very slow to get involved in a deep dive search into the NI Water fiasco.

    Presumably Felicity Huston is still awaiting a reply from the OFMDFM following her request for greater independence for her office and her officials. The absence of one of her team from the interim appointment process and her brief one page reply didn’t give the investigators’ staff much to go on. Perhaps they’ll turn to Slugger blogs and comments – or even NALIL 🙂

  • SDLP calls for end to water probe ‘whitewash’.

    Conal McDevitt SDLP: “It smacks of a whitewash, a report commissioned by the First and Deputy First Ministers with the support of the Minister for Regional Development to cover up for gross political ineptitude and a total lack of leadership.

    “I am calling on the First and Deputy First Ministers to suspend this review process.”

    Curiously enough, I’ve just received a document which has been, er, altered at the behest of a senior civil servant during the course of an ‘independent’ investigation. I’ll publish it later.

  • So forget about this review. Get a proper scientific one done by the Health and Safety Executive.

  • Cynic2

    “Would it be likely that an *ordinary* civil servant would be able to protest against their given task?”

    They could – but they wouldnt remain a civil servant for long afterwards. Not one of us anymore.