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Northern Ireland Executive pressed over spin doctor David Gordon appointment

By Noel McAdam

Published 05/11/2016

David Gordon
David Gordon
Mike Nesbitt

A Stormont committee has fired a series of questions to Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness over the controversial appointment of Executive press secretary David Gordon.

But the First Minister and Deputy First Minister defended their decision to recruit the former editor of the BBC's Nolan Show to the £74,000-a-year post.

Letters between the Executive committee and Stormont's leaders were obtained by the Belfast Telegraph as it emerged the row over the appointment could be discussed when MLAs on the Executive committee meet again next week.

Despite speculation, no decision has been taken on inviting Mr Gordon to appear before the committee.

Mrs Foster and Mr McGuinness used special Royal Prerogative powers to ensure that they could appoint the 51-year-old without advertising the position.

Civil Service commissioners said they had not been informed or consulted on the process used, and the public appointments commissioner, Judena Leslie, who oversees non-Civil Service public sector appointments, said she heard of Mr Gordon's job through the media.

In their letter, the Executive committee asked what Mr Gordon did that they former director of information, Stephen Grimason was unable to do.

In their response, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister made clear Mr Gordon would have no power to manage other civil servants and that his job would come to an end at or before the next Assembly election.

"He has been appointed by us and works under our direction and control," they explained.

Mr Gordon's role is to ensure that all communications activities enhance the profile and image of the Executive. The job description includes regularly briefing on behalf of Mrs Foster and Mr McGuinness to "ensure their agreed position is accurately communicated".

The First Ministers also revealed that Mr Gordon was tasked with developing "meaningful relations" with the national Government as well as the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales. And they added it had yet to be decided whether Mr Grimason would be replaced.

Mrs Foster and Mr McGuinness further said the reassignment of the former director's responsibilities was still under consideration. Mr Gordon, the former political editor of the Belfast Telegraph, said he did not wish to make any comment.

At a previous committee meeting, the chairman, Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt, said the appointment "could set a precedent that could come back to haunt us, and there is a danger that the public could see us as roll-overs and irrelevant."

Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson said the process behind the appointment had not been as transparent as might have been hoped.

"If we are to fulfil our role, the public should have confidence in all the processes of this establishment," Mr Dickson added.

The SDLP's Richie McPhillips argued that there should have been more openness and the episode was "another blow to the body politic", showing the need for "less smugness" from the Executive parties, the DUP and Sinn Fein.

But the DUP's Christopher Stalford and Sinn Fein's Sean Lynch said there was no need for Mr Gordon, who does not start his job until next month, to come to the committee.

Mr Lynch called the appointment "legal and above board".

And Mr Stalford said: "The man has been dragged through every newspaper in the country and people... have had their pound of flesh and should let the man get on with his role."

Belfast Telegraph

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