BY DAVID GORDON
BY DAVID GORDON
A LONG-RUNNING hospitality controversy at the Northern Ireland Court Service has led to the organisation giving up control of its contracts, it can be revealed today.
The Court Service has confirmed it has passed prime responsibility for procuring services and products to a wing of the Northern Ireland Office.
Its move is part of the fall-out from ongoing investigations launched almost a year ago.
These inquiries stemmed from a row over a Scandinavian yachting break involving two senior Court Service officials.
Both men were suspended in August 2005 after it was revealed their boat trip was hosted by businessman Richard Maybin, whose firm Maybin Support Services held a major Court Service security contract.
Police were called in to examine the case, while a retired senior NIO official was asked to conduct a separate, wider probe into the acceptance of hospitality and gifts by Court Service staff.
This retired civil servant, David Watkins, has now submitted a confidential interim report on procurement arrangements at the organisation.
As a result, the NIO's procurement unit now has responsibility for negotiating and awarding Court Service contracts.
Mr Watkins will submit a final report on his findings at the conclusion of his probe.
A Court Service spokeswoman said the transfer to the NIO is a permanent arrangement and will cover the preparation of tender documents, negotiation of terms and conditions, award of contracts and the monitoring of suppliers' performances.
She added: "The Court Service, however, retains responsibility for identifying the procurement need, confirming requirements, agreeing evaluation criteria and supplier selection."
The spokeswoman said the arrangements would allow for "additional expertise and advice" to be provided on procurement.
The Court Service stated publicly last August two senior figures - head of procurement services Brian Lowry and head of court operations George Keatly - had accompanied Mr Maybin on his yacht.
The investigation is ongoing, a PSNI spokeswoman said.