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'North Korea' jibe at Stormont as spin doctor row refuses to go away

First Ministers slam 'hysteria' over new Press chief but storm shows no signs of dying down

By Rebecca Black

Published 19/09/2016

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness
First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness
David Gordon

The appointment of a journalist as chief Stormont spin doctor has sparked a war of words between the Executive Office and the Opposition that has been blasted as "unmannerly".

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt queried why the First and Deputy First Ministers named BBC Nolan Show editor David Gordon as Press secretary without advertising the job or informing the Executive Committee before making the appointment public last week.

He accused the Executive Office of behaviour befitting North Korea.

But it hit back with two stinging statements on Saturday and yesterday accusing Mr Nesbitt of "hysteria", and labelling talk of Assembly scrutiny committees looking at the appointment as "nonsensical".

Political commentator Peter Shirlow described one of the statements as "extraordinary".

Speaking on the BBC's Sunday Politics show, Mr Shirlow said it read like something from a George Orwell novel.

"That is one of the most unmannerly, unsophisticated documents that I have ever seen come out of the Executive Office," he said.

"Whatever you think of the Executive, we need our leaders to show manners and we need them to be transparent in their communication.

"Whenever I read that - that was anger, it was frustration, it was like something written by teenagers who had fallen out with each other."

It was announced last week that Mr Gordon is to become the most senior spokesman for First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

However, his appointment has drawn criticism after it emerged the post - which commands a £75,000 salary - had not been advertised, and that the First and Deputy First Ministers used powers under what is known as the Royal Prerogative to create the role for the BBC journalist and former Belfast Telegraph political editor.

Mr Nesbitt said the matter will be discussed next week by the committee - chaired by him - that monitors the Executive Office.

Yesterday morning the Executive Office released a second weekend statement.

It said: "Ministers use ministerial powers to make ministerial appointments.

"The Executive Office has supplied the relevant order to any media outlet that requested it and has provided media with details of the legislation under which the appointment was made since it was announced.

"To suggest there was any 'secret' is stretching credibility to breaking point."

However, a number of political parties have expressed concern at the way the whole process has been handled by Mrs Foster and Mr McGuinness.

Alliance MLA Naomi Long said the fashion in which Mr Gordon was appointed to the role was "scandalous", while TUV leader Jim Allister described it as "Stalinist".

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