This morning in the High Court, both Sinn Fein’s and Declan Gormley’s counsels will be making their cases on the figure in damages to be reached by the jury in Sinn Fein malicious libel trial. We should have a figure to run with by lunchtime.
As Tom Kelly – rather prophetically – warned back in 2007 (long before Mr Gormley had even been appointed been appointed to Northern Ireland Water), Martin McGuinness’s promise to put manners on Civil Servants, was tantamount to threatening individual and employment rights:
Trampling on people’s rights is second nature to people who exiled others from their homes – or who refuse to provide vital information which could lead to the arrest of murderers or the location of the bodies of the disappeared but, if we genuinely are moving on, then the type of leadership we can expect needs to change too.
Conor Murphy, despite being responsible for running up the bulk of an £8 million bill in legal advice and claims, has still to apologise to the man he turned aside for chair of Northern Ireland Water on the grounds, according to the Eqaulity Commission, that he was Protestant.
And yet, in Mr Gormley’s case, being Catholic and from Derry was no defence against the wrath of the Minister, even though there has never been a shred of evidence that anyone on the Board of Northern Ireland Water had the least knowledge of the breaches at the heart of the sacking.
Far from putting manners on senior civil servants, Mr Murphy did not question the specious grounds (see Slugger’s timeline here and Sam McBride’s summary here) offered him by his then Permanent Secretary Paul Priestly, who was subsequently suspended and disciplined for serious misconduct.
Having had Murphy’s ‘mistake’ pointed out at the PAC meeting of July 2010, Mr Gormley made it clear to Mitchel McLoughlin, Sinn Fein’s senior member of the PAC, that all he wanted was a recognition that he was innocent and he would resume normal life with his reputation restored.
And that remained his position right up until the moment they went court three weeks ago. All of which begs a number of questions, not least: why did Sinn Fein not take the simple way out in what proved in the end to be an utterly unanswerable case?
Insteat they went on the attack. But when it came to throwing material at Mr Gormley they encountered a major problem. Despite having sacked him, there was absolutely no evidence that Mr Gormley personally (nor indeed any of the other three sacked members of the Board) had actually done anything wrong.
Far from putting manners on his own senior civil servants he took their word as well as those of some very well paid external consultants (two of them paid £1,100 a day, the third was a friend of the then NI Water CEO)
Even so, the report was so bland and uncritical of the board, that they had to be pressed several times before the Minister would move.
Even when his Permanent Secretary was removed from office (for the first time in the history of the NI Civil Service, and only the second time in the UK), Mr Murphy continued to protest that the independent review team , as Eamonn’s tweet of that time noted:
Conor Murphy says he is unrepentant about sacking the 4 non executive directors of NI Water. He said the IRT “got to the core of issues.”
— Eamonn Mallie (@EamonnMallie) August 19, 2010
And yet, if that really was true, and the sacking of the Board was more than just a convenient way of grabbing headlines, then why did Sinn Fein and two of its then MLAs feel compelled to invent what the court has defined as malicious untruths about Mr Gormley?
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