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Pressure mounts over Stormont press secretary job for former BBC Nolan Show man

By Staff Reporter

Published 17/09/2016

David Gordon
David Gordon

Pressure is continuing to mount over the appointment of an award-winning journalist to an unadvertised £75,000 Stormont job as Executive Press Secretary.

Yesterday it was learned that Northern Ireland's Commissioner for Public Appointments, Judena Leslie, has written to the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service seeking clarification about the process used to give BBC Nolan editor David Gordon the plum post.

And former Commissioner for Public Appointments, Felicity Huston, also waded into the row last night, saying of the appointment that: "It appears that the normal processes of openness, transparency and principles of merit have been completely set aside."

Mr Gordon (51), a former political editor of the Belfast Telegraph, has for the last five years been widely thought to be the brains behind the BBC's successful Nolan Show.

Last night, Ms Huston said she was not at all clear about the process by which the appointment was made.

"I don't think anybody is," she told the BBC's Evening Extra programme.

"It looks like the Executive aren't too clear either, because two or three days ago they said that the appointment was made following something they described as 'the commissioner for Pubic Appointments Regulations'. But there are no such regulations.

"Now we are being told that the appointment was made following the Civil Service Commissioners processes - so nobody seems to know what's actually going on."

She described Mr Gordon's status on the Stormont payroll as "a mystery", saying it was "neither fish nor fowl, nor good red meat".

"It appears that the normal processes of openness, transparency and principles of merit have been completely set aside.

"I think people care about how individuals get appointed to highly paid and very powerful positions.

"We don't give somebody a job by anointing them. We expect it to be an open thing. This job is actually about communication with the media, who expect openness in this day and age, as we all do.

"We don't expect the old 'tap on the shoulder' stuff - that's long gone," she added.

When the appointment was announced, Mr Gordon said: "This is an opportunity I simply could not turn down.

"It's an exciting new challenge for me after some five and a half very rewarding years with the Nolan Show and BBC.

"Journalists have a duty to hold politicians to account and ask the tough questions that need to be asked.

"I have always tried to do that. But it's also important Government has space to make its case too."

Ulster Unionist Leader, Mike Nesbitt MLA, has asked the staff of the Committee of the Executive Office, of which he is Chair, to put the appointment process for the Executive Office's new Press Secretary on the agenda for its next meeting this coming Wednesday.

Mr Nesbitt said: "This raises issues on three levels - the Committee of the Executive Office, party political and for the individual. I have asked Committee staff to ensure the appointment process is on the agenda for the next meeting of the Committee of the Executive Office on Wednesday.

"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. 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.

"On a party political level, it is beyond belief that a self-styled proud Republican like Martin McGuinness can bestow upon himself the powers of a Royal Prerogative. Any Republican with an ounce of principle wouldn't touch it with a barge pole.

"On a personal level, was David Gordon aware of the process the First Ministers were using, and if not, why not?

"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."

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