30/06/2011

Intimidation And Destroyed Documents Disgraceful - Dallat

An SDLP MLA has described the demotion of a senior civil servant as "feather duster treatment", claiming he and others on the committee received "intimidating letters" and "threatening legal action".

John Dallat, who is a member of the Public Accounts Committee (Pac), was speaking after the head of the civil service Sir Bruce Robinson faced questions by the committee on Wednesday over the demotion of former DRD Permanent Secretary Paul Priestly.

Mr Priestly was demoted for helping draft a letter of complaint to the Pac during an investigation into Northern Ireland Water, which led to a number of high profile sackings.

At the committee hearing, Head of Civil Service, Sir Bruce Robinson, defended his decision not to fire Mr Priestly and to simply demote him and suspend him on full pay. Mr Dallat said the handling of the affair raised questions of accountability, and revealed that not only had members of his committee experienced "intimidation", but that documents pertaining to the investigation had been destroyed.

“It is important to remember that four non-executive directors of NIW were publicly sacked on the basis of a flawed report and humiliated in public with no right of appeal yet one of the most senior civil servants gets the feather duster treatment and others involved go free," Mr Dallat said.

The MLA added that the demotion of Paul Priestly by one grade sent out mixed messages and that serious questions remained as to how the independence of the Public Accounts Committee can be rebuilt after the "disgraceful happenings".

"Myself, Patsy McGlone and Dawn Purvis [received] intimidating [and] letters threatening legal action against us for doing our work as members of the committee.

“Perhaps the most revealing part of the hearing was the fact that no one was held accountable for destroying documents which were requested under freedom of information. This is shocking and Sir Bruce could give no guarantee that this would not happen again."

(DW/GK)

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