NI Water: Mr Priestly to return to work, but the issue rumbles on?

So Mr Priestly, the former Permanent Secretary is to return to work, albeit as a deputy Permanent Secretary. His salary drops from £106,000 down to £92,000. It is not certain where he will be deployed. He was suspended for providing the text of a letter which was subsequently used by to attack the workings of the Public Accounts Committee by Peter Dixon (also a non exec of the DRD appointed Harbour Commissioners at the time) whose work as a member of an Independent … Read more

Priestly’s return…

The Northern Ireland Department of Regional Development Permanent Secretary, Paul Priestly, was suspended on full pay in August last year.  The former Permanent Secretary of the Welsh Assembly, Sir Jon Shortridge, was appointed by the head of the NI Civil Service, Sir Bruce Robinson, to lead the investigation into Priestly’s role in the NI Water saga – but with somewhat restricted terms of reference.  The fall-out from that saga is now being felt in a wider political arena. Sir Jon Shortridge reportedly concluded his investigation in November. … Read more

Declan Gormley launches multiple legal actions…

JUst when you thought it had gone away… Northern Ireland Water comes back. Declan Gormley, having waited for due process to recognise the shoddy manner in which he was dealt. He’s now speaking on Nolan. For clarity, here’s the presser: Former non-executive Director Declan Gormley is threatening new legal action against Minister Murphy and the DRD. Mr. Gormley has notified all of the relevant parties that he will proceed with misfeasance and defamation proceedings unless he receives a retraction and … Read more

Sinn Fein suffers another memory loss at the PAC?

There’s much to be said about where the PAC’s investigation of NI Water leaves us all. As noted previously there is plenty of material to draw out from the final report. But there’s one wee detail worth noting in passing. Mitchel McLaughlin had this to say on Monday: It was revealed during Ministerial questions in the Assembly today that Mr. McGlone, an SDLP member of the Public Accounts Committee had submitted questions to the Committee investigation into NI Water procurement … Read more

Was NI Water rolling back poor departmental compliance rates?

The PAC’s report into Northern Ireland Water has to be one of the most comprehensive pieces of research, not only into a publicly owned utility, but into an insider government culture that brooks no dissent and treats whistleblowers with contempt. There is more than enough to keep Slugger going for the next fortnight, and yet beyond this excellent summation of the story by Sam McBride at the News Letter, the press have, by and large, let it slide. However, as … Read more

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 … Read more

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 … Read more

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 … Read more

NI Commissioner for Public Appointments: “We couldn’t find out how people had ended up being interviewed…”

It’s worth highlighting the comments by the NI Commissioner for Public Appointments, Felicity Huston, to the BBC NI Spotlight programme last night on the NI Water saga.  From the BBC report Felicity Huston said: “I was a bit shocked about how chaotic it was considering the importance.” Mr Murphy said he had full confidence in the process. However, Ms Huston said it was one of several conducted by DRD she had found to be unsatisfactory. The chairman of NI Water, Chris Mellor, … Read more

“OFMDFM are aware of the issues raised…”

On Friday [evening? – Ed] the Northern Ireland First and deputy First Ministers issued a statement in response to concerns about their appointment of an individual to an ‘independent’ review who “could be perceived as having a conflict of interest.”  In particular, the appointment of Philip Holder to the second layer of the investigation into the role and responsibilities of the NI Regional Development Minister, and the Department, in the NI Water saga. From the OFMDFM statement OFMDFM are aware of the issues raised … Read more

Another conflict of interest in yet another NI Water review team – redux

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 reports on questions over the Northern Ireland First and deputy First Ministers’ appointment of Philip Holder to the second layer of the investigation into the role and responsibilities of the NI Regional Development Minister and the Department in the NI Water saga. From the BBC report The Department for Regional … Read more

Jim Allister on Lawrence MacKenzie’s golden handshake

Jim Allister has an interesting set of questions over Lawrence MacKenzie’s severance package which has been picked up on by the News Letter. The questions essentially revolve around why if MacKenzie resigned of his own volition, he received over £90,000. As Allister says: “what sort of a remarkable contract had he which entitled him to a handsome severance package even when he himself choose to go? Does this mean that if the crisis had never occurred and he merely decided … Read more

Willie Clarke asks why the SDLP is ‘defending’ sacked NEDs

So whilst Northern Ireland Water is using section 36 of the Freedom of Information Act to prevent us finding out information we don’t already know (ie, whether or not Minister Murphy’s interim chair has been doing his job properly), Sinn Fein’s Willie Clarke’s going on the political offensive over NI Water, asking some questions the answers to which are already in the public domain. In particular he’s asking why two SDLP MLAs: “…have been fighting a rearguard action on behalf of … Read more

NI Water refuse to disclose attendance record of interim Chair

Fascinating little sidebar matter on the Northern Ireland Water issue. Jim Allister has been refused information relating to the attendance of the Chairman Pauric White at Board meetings. The reasons given are astounding: “Premature disclosure of information pertaining to the investigation, whilst the investigation is ongoing, could potentially result in closing off options through adverse public reaction.” Acting CEO Trevor Haslett is the individual who authorised this refusal. When contacted by Slugger, an NI Water spokeswoman stated: “It is, however, … Read more

Murphy: “The person who has responsibility for dealing with these things is me”*

Conor Murphy’s line today on the leaked PAC report is strangely reminiscent of his party colleague, the chair of the PAC, Paul Maskey. But it is also in line with his own original interview with Jamie Delargy in UTV’s Stormy Water special back in August, that this was all about procurement issues, not the misdirection of process at the most senior levels of his own department. The draft report of the PAC agrees the breaches were serious, but that this … Read more

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 … Read more

NI Water: Draft PAC report says IRT conclusion “too general” and “deficient”

UTV has seen a leaked copy of the draft PAC report into the NI Water saga.  From UTV [added emphasis throughout] The draft document, which was prepared by Audit Office staff over the past six months, has criticised the composition of the team formed last January to examine procurement problems at the water company. It says the Department should not have appointed individuals to the Independent Review Team who “could be perceived as having a conflict of interest.” The draft report … Read more

Another conflict of interest in yet another NI Water review team…

You can never quite guess which way this Northern Ireland Water story is going next. So now there’s another question hanging over the appointment of a review team set up to look at the foul up over Christmas announced within hours of the conclusion of Mr MacKenzie’s negotiation over his departure deal on Friday. Two days into his appointment as CEO, MacKenzie learned that he was to have two bosses. The duly Board of the GoCo of course, but he … Read more

Serious allegations emerge from MacKenzie’s early life in Scotland

What did Conor Murphy think this morning as he read his copy of the Scottish Daily Record? If Charlie Gall is right (and so far as Slugger understands, as yet there’s been no legal challenge to what are some very grave allegations), then the Minister not only trashed the reputations of four Non Executive Directors, in order to retain  Chief Executive who so spectacularly failed in the discharge of his duties over Christmas, but that man, whom his Minister fought tooth … Read more

Professor Hillyard: “We prepared the reports and they’re still sitting on somebody’s shelf somewhere”

A timely reminder from the chairman of the Independent Water Review Panel [IWRP], Professor Paddy Hillyard, of the results of the recommendations contained in the two strands of his previous review of NI Water.  From the BBC report The review was set up by the assembly in 2007 after direct rule ministers advised that water services should be privatised. Among its recommendations were that water charges should come in. [Adds – and “be clearly and separately identified on their rates bill … Read more