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Northern Ireland Events Company bust: Stormont legal advisor could be called in to investigate scandal

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 23/04/2015

David McNarry claimed some people would prefer to see the matter
David McNarry claimed some people would prefer to see the matter "dead and buried"

The Executive's chief legal advisor could be called in over the collapse of a quango which brought the stars of showbiz to Stormont.

The Northern Ireland Events Company (NIEC) went bust in 2007 - despite receiving up to £3m a year in public funding.

Despite a number of long-running and expensive investigations, the full story of its demise has never been made public.

And a MLA leading calls for answers has now threatened to call in Attorney General John Larkin on the matter.

David McNarry claimed some people would prefer to see the matter "dead and buried".

The NIEC was set up in the 1990s to boost Northern Ireland's profile on the international stage, and subsidised showpiece gigs at Stormont by artists such as Pavarotti, Rod Stewart and Elton John.

It went bust in 2007, leaving the taxpayer to settle debts of more than £1.5m.

A confidential inquiry by accountancy experts KPMG found irregular loans and payments. It also reported a breakdown in accountability between the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL), which controlled the quango, and the board which ran it.

DCAL then asked the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment to launch a more exhaustive probe. The inquiry began in 2008 and was finally completed last year.

In October it was reported that Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster was refusing to release the report - despite spending £1.24m on it. It was also revealed the PSNI had launched a criminal investigation into the matter.

The NIEC's demise is also the subject of an Audit Office investigation. It is expected to report some time in the autumn.

Mr McNarry said that if answers were not forthcoming by the time the Assembly breaks for the summer, he will ask the Attorney General to intervene.

"I have concluded the foot-dragging behaviour of senior civil servants on the issue of coming clean on the Northern Ireland Events Company means that there is a conspiracy to cover up the truth," he said. "What other reason would there be for my waiting patiently this past seven years for an explanation?

"Clearly some people want the issue to be dead and buried."

Mr McNarry said what happened inside the NIEC was a matter of public interest.

"For such substantial amounts of public money to be used and lost, it beggars belief that the conclusion of a report which has been completed some time ago is being withheld," he added.

The NIEC's collapse has long been mired in controversy. It previously emerged that £8,000 was spent entertaining VIPs at one event in 2001.

Some MLAs also questioned a decision to underwrite a Rod Stewart concert the following year to the tune of £100,000.

In 2007, NIEC officials told DCAL that it had run out of cash. Then Culture Minister Edwin Poots launched an urgent report into its finances. He told the Assembly that NIEC had run up debts of £1.6m "because of a fundamental breakdown in controls and procedures at a number of levels".

Timeline

  • 1997: Northern Ireland Events Company is set up to boost the country's profile internationally. It attracts acts including Sir Elton John and Pavarotti.
  • 2007: The quango folds with debts of £1.6m.
  • 2008: BBC investigation reveals details of how NIEC went bust, including irregular loans and payments.
  • 2008: Investigation by PricewaterhouseCoopers, commissioned by DETI, begins.
  • 2014: PwC report, costing £1.24m, is handed over to DETI.
  • 2014: Belfast Telegraph reveals the PSNI has launched a criminal investigation into NIEC.

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