PAC considers asking for members’ phone records to source leak…

Not sure how seriously to take this one, since the legal complications it might invoke would probably rule it out from any serious consideration. But on the eve of the publication of a major report from Stormont’s Public Accounts Committee, Slugger understands that some members of the PAC have been suggesting that the phone records of its members should be investigated in order to source the leak of an earlier draft version of that report to UTV on the goings on at Northern Ireland Water.

Hmmm… Aside from any issues of data protection, given what we know of the poor quality of the information being tracked into the Committee from Government, the disclosure of phone records would substantially shut down the capacity of Committee members to receive information from third party sources. In fact it would be closed off almost completely.

Perhaps that was the intention?

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  • “information being tracked into the Committee from Government”

    Mick, I don’t know what this means. Can you elaborate please?

    The point you make about the security of information from third party sources IMO is an extremely important one. Some people in power will spend whatever public money it takes to protect their power base even if it has a destructive impact on third parties.

  • Mick Fealty

    Just this: official information put in front of PAC 01:07:10 was partial and was given very little relevant context in which decisions where made. (Paul Preistly: “Um, I don’t appear to have that information.”

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Surely its just an exercise in “Freedom of Information”. Thats the problem with Freedom of Information……
    1 …..when its information I “want” its freedom of information.
    2……when its information we dont want to give then its “priveleged”.

    I myself havea similar problem where I am trying to get some information on potential breaches of my privacy but the body from whom I am seeking the information is not being very helpful.

  • “Paul Preistly: “Um, I don’t appear to have that information.”

    Thanks, Mick. I’m now going to refer to a different tree but perhaps it’s a tree of the same species. Paul Priestly is currently out of the loop yet nothing much seems to change when it comes to our governance processes.

    Here is part of a draft of an NIAO report on an ‘independent’ investigation authorised by Paul Priestly where Priestly is directly involved in making a series of alterations to the NIAO draft. I would have expected that NIAO produced its reports independently. Why was Priestly involved? Was he taking direction from others or was he acting on his own?

    “Perhaps that was the intention?”

    Third parties have played a very important role in this and other questionable forms of governance behaviour. Sadly they receive very little support from watchdogs – or protection from retribution.

  • Drumlins Rock

    “some members of the PAC” Mick, no chance of a hint to who these members are? or at least their party? If true it is an action Gadaffi would be proud off, monitoring opposition parties phones!

  • wild turkey

    got a leak?

    call in the plumbers

    ah, yes i remember now. nixon was eventually removed from office.

    what comparable mechanisms operate in this jurisdiction?

  • Brian Walker

    Privilege privilege.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Given how they play fast and loose with the DPA, it’s of now surprise. Even with *work* phones,and email the employer has to abide by a certain number of areas of legislation regarding the employees’ privacy.

    Jeebus next the will be asking for their computer records…

  • William Markfelt

    Can someone start a thread on the above BBC link so that some others can get ripped into the PAC’s continuing vulture of ”let’s criticise what’s set before us rather than get both sides of the story’.

    Of one thing we can be certain: about half of what PAC are saying will have some foundation in truth. The other half will almost certainly be a load of bull dreamt up to load the dice in PAC’s favour.

  • William Markfelt

    I meant to say ‘culture’ rather than ‘vulture’, but ‘vultures’ in PAC and the likes of the NIAO works just as well.

  • “shut down the capacity of Committee members to receive information from third party sources”

    Mick, it’s good that some elected representatives are prepared to respond to the concerns of third parties but, as William has noted, opportunities to hear a fuller account have been rejected by PAC. Justice is ill served when all of the evidence available is not heard, tested and evaluated.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “It found that Mr Dixon was a friend of Don Price, the one NIW non executive director not sacked. The PAC said that there were “three potential conflicts of interest, involving two of the three review team members”

    In the name of Fcuk….

  • William Markfelt

    ‘PAC said that there were “three potential conflicts of interest,’

    It could be said that assembling reports which highlight only one side of the story (judgement on that generally being handed down by Judge Maskey) could also be said to represent a conflict of interest.

  • Pigeon Toes

    I see that he wanted to highlight the party line
    Mr Maskey said the report had found “serious failings”.

    “Over a period of five years, from 2005 to 2010, there were some 75 contracts that were badly handled with regard to procurement processes totalling almost £46m,” he said.

    “The total fact is value for money wasn’t the case, we couldn’t find that we couldn’t prove that at any stage. The fact of the matter is that £46m over five years is unbelievable and disgraceful.”

    Though the painting of Priestly asa renegade could prove problematic. What about all the *other* “independent reports” he commissioned 😀

    “Mr Maskey also singled out Mr Priestly for criticism.

    “Accounting officers, which Mr Priestly was, have a duty to have integrity and honesty when it comes to reporting to our committee and what we expect are truthful answers,” he said.”

  • I can find no mention of the 2 September 2009 meeting attended by Murphy, McGlade, Priestly, Patterson and MacKenzie, a meeting referred to by MacKenzie but allegedly not minuted/noted by DRD.

    Presumably PAC failed to spot this encounter, an encounter that could have had consequences for ensuing events.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Even for the comedy value alone…

    Section 1: Standards in Public Life

    The Conduct of the DRD Permanent Secretary towards the Committee was unacceptable

    11. It is essential that the general public and their elected representatives have full confidence in the way that Northern Ireland civil servants conduct public business. All public officials, from the top down, are required to behave, at all times:

    within the spirit as well as the letter of the law;
    in the public interest; and
    to high ethical standards.
    12. The benchmark for ethical behaviour in the public sector was set by the Committee on Standards in Public Life at Westminster through its “Seven Principles of Public Life”[6]. Often referred to as “the Nolan Principles”, these principles require public officials to act, at all times, with selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. The Committee has always championed the application of these principles in its work and plays an important role, on behalf of the Assembly, in holding public officials to account for their decisions.

    13. The Committee expects all public officials from the top down to know these ethical principles so well that they should apply them instinctively in every decision they make. The Committee also expects that, as Accounting Officers, top officials must demonstrate that, in taking responsibility for public spending decisions, they have ensured regularity, value for money and propriety. Not only must they spend wisely and well, but their behaviour should be beyond reproach. This Committee acknowledges that the vast majority of civil servants strive to uphold these principles.

    14. It is the responsibility of the Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service (the Civil Service) and his Permanent Secretaries to set the tone at the top, ensuring that integrity and honesty are at the heart of all that they do and say. The Committee was therefore appalled to learn that the DRD Permanent Secretary, Paul Priestly, had a role in preparing a draft letter of complaint[7] to this Committee on behalf of Peter Dixon, a member of the Independent Review Team (IRT), which investigated procurement failings in NI Water. Mr Dixon is the Group Chief Executive of Phoenix Energy Holdings. In this letter Mr Dixon stated that there was a “disgraceful line of questioning” at the Committee’s evidence session of 1 July 2010. The letter attacked the role of the Committee in questioning witnesses called to account for their actions in relation to the significant procurement problems at NI Water. The fact that Mr Priestly — the principal witness and the person required to set an example to the many public officials under his direction — had had a role in preparing this letter was utterly disgraceful. This letter clearly sought to undermine the role played by this Committee in holding public officials to account. The Committee is both shocked and angry at the duplicity of such a senior public servant.

    15. Prior to the identification of the real author of the letter, the Chairman of Phoenix Energy Holdings Sir Gerry Loughran, a former Head of the Civil Service, distanced his company from Mr Dixon’s comments. In doing so, he accepted that this Committee was pursuing perfectly legitimate questions which were both reasonable and evidence-based. Interestingly, Sir Gerry noted that Mr Dixon had “very little knowledge of the Assembly’s accountability processes and in particular the work of the PAC [Public Accounts Committee]”. The irony is that it was an Accounting Officer, supposedly expert in the accountability process, who had been involved in scripting the comments.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “22. The NIAO Memorandum of 9 December 2010 disclosed that 11 days before Ms Henry’s appointment to the IRT, her firm, Deloitte, was appointed to provide expert witnesses and forensic accountants to the Steria contractual dispute at a cost of £389,000. Ms Henry and Lian Patterson, the senior DRD Finance Director who had, with the Accounting Officer, selected the IRT members, were former colleagues at Deloitte. The relationships between Deloitte, DRD and NI Water were so extensive that those appointing Ms Henry should have been aware of the risk of a perception of conflict of interest.”


  • William Markfelt

    ‘The total fact is value for money wasn’t the case’

    Rich, coming from an MLA. It’s as though he has surfed a tsunami of irony all of his life without once dipping a big toe in its magical waters.

    Wales: 60 representatives for 3m people.

    NI: 108 representatives for 1.6m people.

    Number of people working in the OFMDFM: bigger than the number of people working the White House, or so I read somewhere.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘an action Gadaffi would be proud off, monitoring opposition parties phones!’

    Not much of a surprise. In its de facto one-party state format, its members have acted, from day one, as the politburo of a one party state.

    NI has its very own Stasi, its own civilian secret police, those agencies of the civil service whose role it is to bypass the rule of law. You can count the NIAO as part of that state apparatus.

    The notion of PAC now considering actions of which Eric Honnecker would be proud comes as no surprise at all to some of us.

    This NIA/PAC charade needs to be ripped down and given a fresh start.

  • Chris Mellor to Paul Priestly, Friday January 22, 2010:

    “I phoned to try and speak today. I had two points:-

    1.Mckenzie resignation Wed 12.30pm its still on Wed 5.30 he wants my permission as Chairman to withdraw it.

    The Neds duly considered this request yesterday and were unanimous in their view that far from accepting his request they were very happy to accept his resignation. Clearly the Minister has a veto over this if we were to formalise it as a decision.

    As you think about the future, leaving aside my own opinions, I respectively suggest you and Conor would do well to reflect on why four experienced Neds from diverse sectors take that view.

    2.Monday 25th the Neds minus Declan who is now in South Africa, will be in Belfast to consider the Internal Audit Report. If it would be helpful John Ballard and I would be happy to meet you informally in the afternoon to discuss how we handle this resignation issue and perhaps where all this may be leading”

  • Cathal Boylan SF MLA:

    “Serious questions should now be asked about the relationship between some members of the SDLP and some of those same non-executive directors. Senior members of that party have been both publicly and privately lobbying for their reinstatement; why are they defending wrong doing? …

    It is clear that Minister Murphy identified wrongdoing in NIW and sought to rectify it; why others want to protect those same individuals is a matter for them to explain.”

  • Pigeon Toes

    “I have no doubt that many within the community, particularly those who wish to see open and transparent procurement arrangements”

    Oh the irony….

  • Drumlins Rock

    It is so ironic to see SF defend “the system” in its many excesses, after only a few years in power, they are already starting to look like that other “Republican Party” down south, if the electorate there saw the Murphy & colleagues actions in this case they might not see them as any different from the rest.

  • DR, Paul Priestly has shed some more light on the system, in particular, one of the watchdogs mentioned in the NIW fiasco. Certain patterns of behaviour seem to reoccur …

  • The thing about “leaks” in general is that it can be argued they are for the “greater” public good or they are just the work of sneaky malcontents.
    One mans public spirited whistleblower is another mans sneak.
    It all becomes very partisan. Judgement is not about the substance (NIW) or the principle of whistleblowing ….it becomes about who dunnit….and to whom.
    If the good guys did it…..”our” guys…then its ok
    If the bad guys did it…….not “our” guys then it is adifferent matter.

    The thread started off about PAC investigating its own members and as always it seems to have become about NIW itself. And whether its a “good leak” or a “bad leak”. The consensus is that it is a good leak because the substance of the story merits it. Besides its themmuns.

    Is a greater good being served by the leaks…or is the principle that members of the PAC have a duty to the committee itself a good thing.
    The narrow political advantage which might result from the leaks…..may or may not be one of which I personally approve……but its a very “iffy” road to go down.
    For what goes round comes round and when the “poacher” on the PAC becomes the gamekeeper with his own Ministry………..then its different.

    All different aspects in here.
    NIW Waters record.
    The DRD record.
    The PAC expected standard and code of behaviour.
    Freedom of Information.
    Political Advantage.
    Good guys and Bad guys. Political Advantage.

    Anybody on any side really calling for support for Whistleblowers. Well nobody is going to hand a blank cheque to them. After all at some point in time a politician of any part will be calling in the PSNI to investigate his own office. And thats…..different.
    I take the view that the PAC members do have a mutual responsibility. I have no problem with any going public on a story. I do have a problem if one or more has a journos number on speed dial.
    And are MLAs or jounalists entitled to more privelege than the Stormont photocopying clerks?
    Personally I think not.

  • “whistleblowers – blank cheques”

    fjh, when it comes to transparency and accountability, it would appear that outcomes heavily favour Ministers and senior civil servants as against Committees and other watchdogs.

    Ministers and senior civil servants are currently in a position where they can wreak havoc in the lives of those who raise issues of misgovernment.

    The MSM will run with a few such stories but all too often it takes the easy way out and does a ‘cut n paste’ job from quotes and press releases.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘If the good guys did it…..”our” guys…then its ok
    If the bad guys did it…….not “our” guys then it is adifferent matter.’

    There are good guys and bad guys in every incident.

    The problem with whistleblowing is that some poor sap is going to end up being accused and ‘tried’ on the basis of faceless, spineless and unfounded allegations. The ‘system’ will protect that invertebrate if it is in their interest and pursue the ones who have had had faceless allegations made against them and pursue those allegations, at great expense, regardless of ‘the evidence’. They’re duty bound to do so, they say. And PAC have history in this regard.

    On the other hand, if the whistleblowing runs against the system, the whistleblower’s anonymity is often a charade. And DRD have history in this regard, well documented history, wherein they appear to ‘lose’ evidence where criticism of their system is negative.

    The system always protects those within the system. It’s funny (and also tragic) to witness the parties of the people, and perennial ‘outsiders’ SF and the DUP engage in this nonsense.

  • William Markfelt

    ‘The MSM will run with a few such stories but all too often it takes the easy way out and does a ‘cut n paste’ job from quotes and press releases.’

    So very true Nevin. As we have seen all along in regard to NIW, there are several organs who have indulged in the cut and paste culture. I see, albeit in a slightly different context, a German politician had to resign for cut and paste last week, but then Germany’s a proper democracy. It’s doubtful our little one-party charade would ever up one of its failed politicians as a sacrificial lamb. The manner in which Murphy seems to have ‘got away with it’ regarding HIS failures in the PAC report shows in what scant regard our own favourite liars and charlatans hold ‘the truth’, which remains a victim to doing what is right and proper.

    A raft of agencies don’t come out of this well, but the bit that comes out of it least well is possibly PAC, who now close ranks around the issue and issue a worthless, pointless report that manages to tell us what a great job PAC are doing (and which some marinated hacks will simply cut and paste).

  • Pigeon Toes


    Completely agree that it’s always about protection of the system, and the various underhand ways this is achieved.

    Nevin I’m guessing the redacted part of the document you linked to might relate to “anonymity of complainants” It would fit, and wonder what was in that particular paragraph that couldn’t be released?

    Was there something in this that caused NIAO and DRD problems?

  • Nevin is of course right.
    The balance favours Ministers/senior civil service more than it favours the whistleblower (particuarly the unprotected civil servant).
    Im a very “pro” the unprotected civil servant…eg the clerical assistant photocopying something he knows is plain wrong…..and it gets into the media.
    But nobody who benefits from his/her leak…including the journalist (“I wont give up my source”) or the opposition politician is actually rushing to protect the unproteted civil servant/whistleblower as a category……rather than as an individual with whom they agree.
    Im not so sure that a member of the PAC deserves the category of being a protected whistleblower….priveleged.
    Breaking the rules is breakin the rules.
    And…..theres no appetite to actually change the rules.
    A Whistleblowers Charter would be a good thing.
    What we seem to have is a Cowards Charter. And the fact that we may or may not like the targets of leaks or feel that there is substance should not actually make a difference.

  • fjh, the smaller parties have IMO rightly noted that not only can the DUP and SF do a stitch-up in Executive business, they can do likewise in Committees. I think you’ll probably find that Committees sometimes go into closed session when not only is there no need for it but also when its not in the public interest.

    When Committees meet in open session and post their deliberations online then, for example, Slugger can host a public conversation which, hopefully, can make a constructive contribution to the debate. Sometimes Ministers and senior civil servants need reminding that their first duty is to act in the greater public interest 😉

    As you know, I take an interest in patterns of behaviour as well as evidence. NIAO was scathing in its reference to ‘unacceptably poor practice‘ by civil servants yet it allowed the charge to be deleted. How many other watchdogs are acquiescing to such pressure?

  • But Nevin surely Slugger is not actually an alternative to the Executive system as it exactly replicates it.
    An “Executive” made up of five different viewpoints immediately attacked by the other four in Opposition. If youre saying the Executive is dysfunctional and not fit for purpose……then surely youd say Slugger is dysfunctional.

  • Are you trying to get me ‘carded’ by the management, fjh? 🙂

    “five different viewpoints immediately attacked by the other four in Opposition”

    It may occasionally look like that in the Assembly chamber when they’re playing to the gallery but I’m told that that the DUP and SF have a bi-lateral ‘arrangement’ and the minnows sometimes get agendas and papers after the meetings have begun.

    I like to think that we’re anti-dysfunctional, deviating from the norms of social behavior in a way regarded, by us, as good 🙂

  • No no no…..quite the opposite.
    The five parties in “government” versus four in “opposition” is a similarity Ive noticed for months and thought it extremely ironic.
    Your comment merely allowed me to bring this thought to a wider readership 🙂