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Bitter row of words between Stormont Executive and Opposition continues over BBC Nolan Show editor's Stormont appointment

By Lisa Smyth and Rebecca Black

Published 17/09/2016

David Gordon has been appointed as press secretary to the Executive by the First and Deputy First ministers under powers known as the Royal Prerogative.
David Gordon has been appointed as press secretary to the Executive by the First and Deputy First ministers under powers known as the Royal Prerogative.

The appointment of the editor of the BBC Nolan Show as Stormont Press Secretary has sparked an increasingly bitter row of words between the Executive and Opposition.

Leader of the Opposition Mike Nesbitt (UUP) has accused the First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness of a "North Korean disregard for democracy".

In a statement issued on Sunday morning the Executive Office hit back saying, "using rhetoric about “Stalin” or “North Korea” is not just hysterical but an insult to victims of oppression".

It was announced last week that David Gordon – editor of The Nolan Show on BBC Radio Ulster for the past three years – is to become the most senior spokesman for First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

However, his appointment has drawn criticism after it emerged the post - which commands a £75,000-a-year salary - was not advertised and the First and Deputy First ministers used powers under what is known as the Royal Prerogative to create the role for former BBC journalist.

Mr Nesbitt said the matter will be discussed at the Committee of the Executive Office which he chairs next week.

"The Committee will form its own view of what has happened but in my opinion this was done without the courtesy of informing, never mind consulting the Committee, which is in stark contrast to the First Minister's words when she last appeared before the Committee on the 8th of June," he said.

"At that time, she said: 'I look forward to a positive and ongoing relationship with you, Chair, and the Committee'.

"Three calendar months later, with North Korean disregard for democracy, the Committee has been disrespected."

He added: "I have been in contact with the Civil Service Commissioners for Northern Ireland and it is absolutely clear that they were not informed of the appointment of the Executive's new Press Secretary or the appointment process used."

On Sunday morning the Executive Office released a statement which claimed the matter is simply "Ministers use Ministerial powers to make Ministerial appointment".

"The Executive Office has supplied the relevant Order to any media outlet that requested it and has provided media with details of the legislation under which the appointment was made since it was announced," a spokesperson said.

"To suggest there was any 'secret' is stretching credibility to breaking point.

"It is normal practice in politics in London and Dublin as well as other devolved governments for Ministers to select a certain number of people who provide them specialist political and communications advice."

The spokesperson accused political parties who have expressed concern of "trying to muddy the waters".

They said talk of Assembly or outside scrutiny of the appointment is "nonsensical".

"The appointment of David Gordon is a political decision – that’s what Ministers do," the spokesperson said.

"His job will involve politics – that’s what Governments are about.

"While this manufactured storm runs its course, Executive Ministers are getting on with the job of Government, determined to pursue policies that make a real difference.

"In a few weeks, David Gordon will be at his new desk helping us in that task. It is extremely useful that he has been given an early insight into the vacuousness and double standards on Opposition benches."

On Saturday the Alliance Party and TUV also expressed concern about the appointment of Mr Gordon.

Alliance MLA Namoi Long said the way in which Mr Gordon was appointed to the role was "scandalous".

"The revelations that The First and Deputy First Ministers secretly changed the law, to avoid any scrutiny of the appointment of their new Executive Press Secretary, simply reinforces my call for all public and ministerial appointments to be brought within the remit of the Commissioner for Public Appointments," she said.

"It is nothing short of scandalous the lengths to which they are willing to go to avoid scrutiny and transparency."

TUV leader Jim Allister last night accused the Executive of behaving like the Russian dictator, Joseph Stalin, after the department released a statement yesterday afternoon accusing critics of the way Mr Gordon, pictured, was appointed of “trying to throw dirt”.

The North Antrim MLA said: “It is laughable they are criticising people who dare to say that due process should be followed.

“Laws should be changed by the Assembly, not by Prerogative powers.

“It’s farcical for the Executive to act like that. Stalin would have been proud of them.”

The Executive statement issued on Saturday said the decision to appoint Mr Gordon “is not subject to scrutiny by the Assembly”.

It continued: “It is normal practice in politics in London and Dublin as well as other devolved governments for Ministers to select the people who provide them specialist communications advice.

“Those trying to throw dirt know that very well. It is interesting to note the panic and hysteria of opposition MLAs following the appointment of the Executive Press Secretary.

“Their reaction, though not surprising, was expected from parties who are struggling to cope with the new political framework at Stormont.”

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