NI Water: Murphy’s department “undermined confidence in the integrity of the public sector”

Just clicking through the journalism  associated with Super Thursday’s report release day. That was the day the PAC’s report came out, and the regulator’s report.  Two remain outstanding: the Executive’s conflicted interest report; and Sir Jon Shortidge’s report into the conduct of Mr Murphy’s suspended Permanent Secretary.

Of these the PAC’s is the more substantial, but guessing from this BBC report, few professional journalists seem to have actually read it.

Interestingly the meaty stuff, which examines the serious misconduct of Permanent Secretary Paul Priestly amongst many other things, comes pinned to the back of a report on waste water (page 81 to be precise). That may well have burned off the interest of less interested journalists in NI’s vastly depleted press corps. So the media coverage is peppered with quotes from various politicians rather than any independent reading of the report.

The Belfast Telegraph even goes as far to say that it vindicates the minister’s decision to sack the four non executive directors last March (which makes whom responsible for this winter’s debacle?) As you might expect, that’s a quote from the minister himself. There is actually no other supporting evidence for that statement than the Minister’s own estimation of his own performance.

In fact the report goes on at length about the poor standards in the Minister’s own department. And on the very first page, this is what the report actually says:

7. The actions of a number of senior officials in this case has undoubtedly undermined confidence in the integrity of the public sector, but it is important to remember that there are good and honourable people at all levels in public bodies. For confidence to be regained, the highest standards in public life must be applied, but those at the top must lead by example.

8. The conduct of Mr Priestly, the DRD Permanent Secretary, towards this Committee was unacceptable. The role of the Committee in questioning witnesses is to hold them to account for their actions. In his role in drafting this letter, Mr Priestly sought to undermine the Committee; this intervention was utterly disgraceful.

9. There are concerns over the independence of the investigation of NI Water’s procurement problems. There were three potential conflicts of interest, involving two of the three review team members. There were also clear indications that the Department inappropriately influenced a small number of key findings in what was supposed to be an independent review.

10. The review team’s report failed to provide, as requested, a detailed and considered assignment of individual responsibility for the governance failures. The review team was unable to fulfil its terms of reference because of the undue haste with which Mr Priestly pressed for the report to be completed.

More later…

More later….

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