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No one disciplined over £1.5m Events Company debacle

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 08/10/2015

Caral Ni Chuilin
Caral Ni Chuilin

Not one person has been punished at a Government department heavily criticised in a damning watchdog report.

The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure was slammed for its oversight of the Northern Ireland Events Company.

The publicly-funded body, which brought stars of showbusiness to Northern Ireland, collapsed in 2007 with debts of £1.5m.

A report by the Northern Ireland Audit Office flagged up a series of failings by its chief executive Janice McAleese. It also criticised DCAL for weak oversight and failing to investigate whistleblower allegations.

However, Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin has confirmed that nobody at the department was disciplined.

She was responding to enquiries from TUV leader Jim Allister.

Mr Allister said he was shocked.

"I'd have expected that there would have been disciplinary consequences, rather than a blind eye being turned," he said.

"I am surprised and disappointed by this.

"To think that departmental officials who had oversight powers are untouched by all this seems to be quite staggering."

The Northern Ireland Events Company was set up in 1997 and was instrumental in bringing star names to perform in the grounds of Stormont, including Elton John, Luciano Pavarotti and Rod Stewart.

But its success was shortlived and a decade later, having received £18m in public funds, it collapsed amid a financial scandal.

The Audit Office heavily criticised the conduct of Ms McAleese, its chief executive between 2004 and 2007. It called her conduct the worst it has seen from a senior public official.

Meanwhile, Stormont officials yesterday faced heavy criticism as they appeared before Assembly Members investigating the financial fiasco.

Current and former DCAL permanent secretaries Denis McMahon and Paul Sweeney and ex-NIEC board chair Mervyn Elder faced tough questions from members of the PAC at Parliament Buildings.

On a number of occasions witnesses were unable to provide specific details to MLAs on a range of issues, including a recruitment process that saw Ms McAleese hired in 2003 despite not meeting essential criteria.

In one instance, when Mr McMahon said he would need to re-check records, SDLP committee vice-chair John Dallat said: "Why is it you don't have the answers at hand today to most of the questions that are being asked? I mean, this is the worst I've ever sat through.

"We have to check everything, yet you knew this was coming up and I've no doubt you were rehearsing for a couple of weeks."

Earlier, Mr McMahon apologised for DCAL's failures in handling the company.

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