The extraordinarily small gene pool for NI Civil Service reviews

Here’s an interesting snippet. It’s an Assembly Question from Patsy McGlone to Tom Elliott regarding “the independent board of inquiry that was convened to consider the disciplinary charges” against Paul Priestly. It’s interesting for a number of reasons: To ask the First Minister and deputy First Minister, in relation to the independent board of inquiry that was convened to consider the disciplinary charges against a senior civil servant, to detail (i) the terms of reference; (ii) the members on the … 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

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

NI Water: External auditor offered NIW a retro-fit..

MLAs are preparing to go into discussion of the NIAO’s long awaited report into the ongoing NI Water debacle that led to the sack of four out of five Non Executive Directors (even though apparently there was no fault found inside the organisation). They will find that the total value of the 74 cases investigated by internal Auditor Nicola Brennan in her ‘deep dive audit’, comes to £6 Million more than was orginally found. Interestingly of these, 41 (that is … Read more

Sir Jon Shortridge concludes his inquiry…

That’s what we’re hearing, although nothing’s officially been broken to the media as such. We understand that despite some internal lobbying from senior civil servants he is to recommend disciplinary action against Paul Priestley, the Permanent Secretary who drafted a letter attacking members of the Public Accounts Committee. It is also our understanding that the investigation went wider than Mr Priestley. As ever, be restrained in your comments! Mick FealtyMick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on … Read more

NI Water: Did whistle-blowing lead to a switch in contract?

I’ve uploaded this whistleblower correspondence. What passes as acceptable practice in DRD at the most senior level, does not measure up to its own policy standards. Here we have a complaint to the Permanent Secretary from the owner of Contracting Out, Sue Holmes. The original complaint is not included, but you can see from the paper trail that despite an explicit request from the complainent that the correspondence not be shared with anyone but the addressee. Within three hours on a … Read more

NI Water: Why open government is more than a slogan for the chattering classes

There’s a very sharply observed piece by Denis Bradley in today’s Irish News, which aside from lauding the work of John Dallat and others on the PAC, an intelligent whistle-blower and some fine words about Slugger, he also let’s slip a few fundamental truths about where the blame lies. And it is not with the politicians: “…it has caught the two governing parties on the hop. They didn’t see it coming. But anyone who has spent a few nights in the … Read more

TORs under which Priestly is to be investigated

I have no comment to make, other than to note the very narrowness of the Terms of Reference and quote the glorious Yes Minister, wh0se insights pepper this whole story from start to finish: “We dare not allow politicians to establish the principle that senior civil servants can be removed for incompetence. We could lose dozens of our chaps. Hundreds maybe. Even thousands.” TERMS OF REFERENCE Following allegations of irregularities around the awarding of procurement contracts in Northern Ireland Water … Read more

Former Welsh Permanent Secretary to investigate suspended NI Permanent Secretary

Former Permanent Secretary of the Welsh Assembly Government, Sir Jon Shortridge, is to lead the investigation into suspended NI Permanent Secretary, Paul Priestly, and his role in the NI Water saga. An iol report notes the terms of reference for the investigation Mr Robinson outlined Mr Shortridge’s terms of reference: “The report will include your comment on whether you believe there may have been any misconduct, including breaches of relevant standards of conduct, terms and conditions of appointment, and in Mr … Read more

“As far as I’m concerned it’s business as usual.”

Perhaps an unfortunate turn of phrase deployed by the Northern Ireland Regional Development Minister, Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy, of a department whose Permanent Secretary has just been suspended pending investigation over the NI Water saga – ostensibly for surreptitiously drafting a letter of complaint to the PAC [for a third party]. Meanwhile, UTV’s Jamie Delargy reports that Northern Ireland Electricity has also been guilty of not putting out some contracts to competitive tendering. While the proper process was followed with some of the … Read more

Priestly drafted Dixon letter of complaint to PAC

The BBC are reporting, ahead of this evening’s UTV Live [added link], that they have seen an email sent by suspended NI Regional Development Permanent Secretary Paul Priestly to Independent Review Team member Peter Dixon following the 1st July PAC meeting. From the BBC report The email sent by Mr Priestly on 2 July followed a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee. At the meeting questions were asked about the independence of a review into NIW, which led to the sackings. It confirms … Read more

NI Water: Robinson told Priestly IRT was a bad idea…

So Paul Priestly is effectively being investigated by his boss, Bruce Robinson. But Slugger understands that when Priestly brought the idea of an Independent Review Team to Robinson, the Head of Northern Ireland Civil Service told him directly that it was a bad idea. So, to repeat something we’ve been asking all through this mess, how can such an investigation be seen to as independent and equitable? Mick FealtyMick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts … Read more

DRD Permanent Secretary suspended

UTV Live are reporting [added link] that the Department of Regional Development Permanent Secretary Paul Priestly has been suspended pending an investigation.  They also reported that NI Regional Development Minister, Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy, described his permanent secretary’s position as ‘untenable’.  Adds From a News Letter report 14 August Mr Murphy, the Sinn Fein minister responsible for sacking all but one of the non-executive directors based on a report by consultants, has said that he has “full confidence” in his … Read more

NI Water: When is a *final* report not a final report?

First, a detail from the Hansard record of the PAC. It comes from Mr Priestly’s opening remarks, so there is no question of his misspeaking under pressure. The review team delivered its final report to me on 18 February. Once I became aware of the problem, swift action was taken. But here’s the problem. Looking at the timeline again, the 18th was the date of the second draft, not the first nor the final, which only officially arrived with the … Read more

NI Water Timeline: “Administrative procedures are the responsibility of management…”

I’ve been working on a timeline of the NI Water story just to try and put some of the material we have into some kind of objective order…  I’ve gone for completion rather than trying to hone in on any one aspect… However a number of things jump out… One is how long Priestly is in post before any of the problems identified by MacKenzie emerge (Hansard also tells us Nicola Brennan conducted three successive audits without finding them either). Two, … Read more

NI Water: Dixon was a DRD appointment to the Belfast Harbour Commissioners

Here’s another little snippet that further highlights the Permanent Secretary’s lack of candour with Stormont’s PAC. When asked by Patsy McGlone about the apparent conflict of interest in pulling Peter Dixon into the Independent Review Team when both the Phoenix Gas CEO and Mr MacKenzie were such close colleagues, Paul Priestly gave this answer: I have known Peter Dixon as a business contact for a couple of years. This is a very small place, so it is inevitable that people … Read more

NI Water: “No, I do not believe that there was a conflict of interest.”

Slugger understands that there is growing unease amongst members of Stormont’s Public Accounts Committee with Peter Dixon’s unprecedented attack on the Committee’s line of inquiry, and the apparent silence on the matter from their own chair, Paul Maskey.  This passage from Hansard is illustrative of the line which drew fire from the Phoenix Gas CEO: Ms Purvis: On the back of that, Chairperson, I raised the point with the regulator last week that Peter Dixon was to head up the independent review team. … Read more

DRD and NI Water officials told not to co-operate with UTV…

Slugger understands that UTV have been taking a very close interest in the NI Water story about the sacked non executives, possibly for a documentary programme in the late summer, and before the next scheduled meeting of the PAC. Now it seems that officials in DRD, headed up by Conor Murphy’s Permanent Secretary, Paul Priestly and NI Water, headed up by CEO Laurence McKenzie (‘They tell me I’m being autocratic – I say – get used to it”), have been … Read more