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Long calls for oversight of public posts after accusations of cronyism

By Staff Reporter

Published 16/09/2016

Transparency: Naomi Long
Transparency: Naomi Long

Alliance MLA Naomi Long has called for all public appointments to be overseen by the Commissioner for Public Appointments (CPA) to combat accusations of cronyism.

It comes after former Deputy Chief Constable Alan McQuillan told the Belfast Telegraph that "a level of cronyism exists in Northern Ireland in which corruption can thrive".

The East Belfast MLA made her call during a briefing yesterday by the commissioner to the Committee for Communities.

Mrs Long added the CPA ought to have statutory powers to step in during appointments processes, similar to their counterpart in England and Wales.

"It is important there is both transparency and public confidence in all public appointments," she said.

"At the moment, the CPA provides oversight and feedback on appointments to public bodies, including on issues of diversity.

"However, some ministerial appointments remain outside that scrutiny. Particularly in light of recent allegations of cronyism, it would make sense to bring all appointments within their remit.

"Only in exceptional circumstances, where ministers can justify it to the CPA, should there be any deviation from that process," she added.

Earlier this week, Mr McQuillan said Northern Ireland does not have "anything like the level of transparency that there is in Britain" as he revealed he would not be seeking any further public appointments.

"My impression is that a culture of cronyism exists in Northern Ireland in which corruption can thrive," he added.

"Northern Ireland is a very small place. Too many jobs are filled by people who simply have the right political connections.

"I have major concerns about how public appointments work here. When an inquiry is set up, the classic response is to appoint 'one of ours and one of yours'. Not the best people for the job, the most acceptable people.

"We need to break away from that, because it damages the reputation of politics entirely."

Mrs Long said the CPA should have statutory powers to intervene in an appointments process if they are concerned about how it is being run or about the range of the pool of applicants "to ensure boards are inclusive and have the right balance of skills to oversee public bodies, which are responsible for the vast majority of public spending here".

"Proper, robust oversight of all appointments is crucial if the whiff of cronyism and corruption is to be addressed to the satisfaction of the public," she said.

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