Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Sir Bruce set to meet committee

Conor Murphy claimed to have received information which made Paul Priestly's position 'no longer tenable'

The head of the Northern Ireland civil service is to give evidence before a powerful Stormont scrutiny committee over the demotion of a senior colleague.

Paul Priestly was removed from his post as permanent secretary at the Department of Regional Development (DRD) after a series of controversies rocked the government-owned Northern Ireland Water (NIW) company. Head of the civil service Sir Bruce Robinson ordered an independent review.

This had led the then minister Conor Murphy to sack the NIW board chairman and three non-executive directors, but the episode was being probed by the Assembly's powerful Public Accounts Committee.

Mr Priestly was dramatically suspended from his role as the minister's top government adviser after claims he helped draw up a letter for one of the review team which criticised the committee.

Sir Bruce meets the Public Accounts Committee on Wednesday.

SDLP committee member John Dallat said: "I welcome the decision by Sir Bruce Robinson to appear before the Public Accounts Committee and accept it as a genuine effort to repair the damage done by those who sought to interfere in the work of the PAC and undermine members who were doing nothing more than carrying out their duty to probe into the affairs of Northern Ireland Water."

Mr Priestly's suspension was announced after Sinn Fein minister Mr Murphy claimed that he had received information which made the civil servant's position "no longer tenable". At the time the civil service said the move was not a punishment, but a means of allowing an investigation of the claims.

The allegations focused on leaked emails and sparked criticism from members of the committee, which plays a pivotal role in monitoring the performance of government.

Sir Jon Shortridge, the former permanent secretary of the Cardiff administration, was asked to examine the events that led to the suspension.

Mr Priestly had held the Permanent Secretary's post for more than two years and was said to have earned a salary of around £100,000. It is understood his salary will now drop by around £15,000 per year.

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