A senior Northern Ireland civil servant who was demoted after he helped draft a letter attacking a Stormont scrutiny committee will continue to take home a salary of £92,000.
Politicians have slammed the decision to allow Paul Priestly to retain a senior highly-paid role at Stormont despite his role in the Northern Ireland Water controversy.
Mr Priestly was Department for Regional Development (DRD) permanent secretary until last August when the minister, Conor Murphy, said his position was untenable.
He was suspended on full pay of £106,000 after it was discovered he had helped draft a complaint letter to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which was probing DRD and NI Water.
The DRD permanent secretary had been involved in appointing Peter Dixon, a director at Phoenix Gas, to an independent review of governance at NI Water.
When four NI Water directors were subsequently sacked for the improper awarding of contracts, the PAC at Stormont began scrutinising the review team. Mr Dixon was not happy with his treatment by the committee and Mr Priestly helped him draft a letter of complaint.
He was suspended on full pay pending an investigation which was carried out by Sir Jon Shortridge, a former senior civil servant from Wales.
A number of Assembly Members have now objected to the outcome of the disciplinary hearing which has demoted Mr Priestly by just one grade to deputy secretary, so retaining a high salary and position of responsibility.
PAC member John Dallat said: “I am concerned that this is setting a very bad precedent in the Civil Service. I’m extremely angry at what happened. There will be questions asked about this decision.”
A statement from the Office of the First and Deputy First Ministers (OFMDFM), responsible for
overseeing the disciplinary hearing, said: “The head of he Civil Service Sir Bruce Robinson is now considering the staffing issues which arise from the demotion”.
There was speculation last night that Mr Priestly could take up a position as deputy secretary in the Department of Justice. His demotion means a £14,000 drop in salary from £106,000 to £92,000.
Dolores Kelly, SDLP member of the committee which scrutinises the DRD, questioned the creation of a high-ranking position given the need for public spending efficiencies.
“There is a substantial hole in the Government’s budget and the
DRD especially can ill-afford to fund a new senior civil servant post,” she said.
“In the June monitoring round, Roads Service (part of DRD) put in substantial bids to fund basic road safety maintenance and street-lighting. DRD has a shortfall of £3m and yet the Civil Service can create an additional £92,000-a-year post.”
Mrs Kelly also questioned what level of confidence staff can have in Mr Priestly after his actions in the NI Water controversy.
“The DRD committee wasn’t informed that this decision was being announced,” she said. “As a committee, we will have a lot of questions about this decision.”
Story so far
Jan 2010 — Independent review is carried out over the governance of NI Water.
March 2010 — Four NI Water directors are sacked over the controversy.
August 2010 — Mr Priestly is alleged to have been involved in helping independent review member Mr Dixon draft a letter to the PAC.
13 June 2011 —Mr Priestly is demoted.