Mandarin defends secrecy of report into failed quango Northern Ireland Events Company
A top civil servant has defended a decision not to publish a secret report into the collapse of a quango that brought stars of showbusiness to the province.
The investigation into the demise of the Northern Ireland Events Company took more than five years and ran significantly over budget.
It was finally completed last year at a cost of £1.24m - five times the £250,000 estimate.
However, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, which commissioned the report, said it will not make the findings public.
Andrew McCormick, the department's permanent secretary, said there were sound reasons to keep it under wraps.
"There was concern about criminal activity and therefore the need to undertake a process that would protect all the information that might possibly be relevant to that criminal investigation," he said.
"Protecting that parallel process was a responsibility we had and it would have been wrong to contemplate publication."
Mr McCormick said those interviewed had also been assured the report would not be published.
"That was designed and intended to at least provide some reason for greater candour in the discussions with the individuals being interviewed," he added.
Mr McCormick was appearing before Stormont's Public Accounts Committee yesterday.
The committee is probing the NI Events Company in the wake of a separate, damning report by the Northern Ireland Audit Office.
The NI Events Company was set up in 1997 to boost the province's profile on the world stage, and subsidised showpiece gigs at Stormont by artists such as Rod Stewart and Elton John.
It received around £18m of public funding from 1997 to 2008, but folded with debts of £1.5m.
Last month's Audit Office report flagged up a series of failings by its chief executive Janice McAleese. It concluded:
- Ms McAleese was involved in fabricating documents, with one bank statement underestimating an overdraft by £20,000.
- A personal relationship between Ms McAleese and a contractor paid £120,000 for a motocross event was not declared.
- There was a potential £260,000 shortfall in gate receipts lodged in NIEC's bank account after four motorbike events.
The Public Accounts Committee is hearing evidence and will issue its own report in due course.
In response to a question from Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs, Mr McCormick said the report's £1.24m was good value for money.
DUP MLA Edwin Poots, who was Culture Minister in 2007 when the quango was wound up, was highly critical of the report's cost.
"How detailed did you have to go, in terms of spending public money, to identify what went wrong here - that's the bottom line," he said.
"Something went seriously wrong and we lost £1.4m - Northern Ireland plc.
"How do we avoid that happening again? Oh right, we'll spend £1.24m doing this. But the £1.24m didn't tell you anything that you didn't actually know beforehand."
Mr Poots questioned whether it was a case of allowing people to quietly exit and "civil servants looking after other civil servants", a claim rejected by Mr McCormick.
Under questioning from Sinn Fein MLA Phil Flanagan, Mr McCormick confirmed some letters referring to director disqualification proceedings had been issued, but declined to say how many.