Belfast Telegraph

Boardroom bans for public figures amid fallout from NI Events Company collapse

 

By Claire O'Boyle

Some of Northern Ireland's top public figures are now banned from boardrooms over their roles in the collapse of a high-profile quango.

A total of 10 former board members of the Northern Ireland Events Company (NIEC) are now disqualified.

The NIEC was set up to promote sports events and music concerts but folded in 2007, leaving the taxpayer with a £1.6m bill.

Mervyn Elder, the former chair of the board, accepted a nine-year ban.

Among those who also accepted disqualification undertakings for five years are Belfast councillor Jim Rodgers and Bill White, who runs a polling company.

Gerry Lennon (53) of Moira; James Clarke (67) of Belfast; Alan Clarke (66) of Belfast; Paul Henry McWilliams (80) of Templepatrick; Aideen Corr (64) of Londonderry; Victor Haslett (78) of the Algarve, Portugal; and Catherine Williamson (52) of Belfast also accepted five-year disqualifications.

An 11th person, Jasper Perry (40), from Davenport in England, had been disqualified for eight years last October.

Janice McAleese, former chief executive of the company, previously accepted disqualification for 14 years for her role in the botched finances of the NIEC. Her conduct was described by the Northern Ireland Audit Office as the worst ever by a public official.

The 11 officials were investigated by the Department for the Economy for failings after the collapse of the quango in 2007.

Last night Ulster Unionist Jim Rodgers hit back and said if "volunteer board members" can be apprehended, then he believed the Civil Service should be held responsible too.

"I feel it's absolutely ridiculous that people who served on a public body without remuneration should be held responsible, bearing in mind that senior civil servants attended our monthly meetings regularly, as well as asking the chief executive to attend meetings with them," he said.

"They should have seen that something was wrong, but on each occasion we were given glowing reports on how the organisation was being run.

"Civil servants yet again are untouchable. If and when the Assembly gets up and running again, I would hope they will ask these questions from the relevant civil servants."

In a joint statement, six of the board members said they agreed to the outcome "reluctantly" as "there has been no wrongdoing".

They added: "The sorry mess is a warning to anyone accepting an appointment to the board of a publicly sponsored company that they run the risk of being scapegoats for the failings of government in similar circumstances."

Mr White said a number of the directors, including himself, had obtained High Court permission to act as directors in other businesses.

Among problems identified by the Department for the Economy was the board's failure to exercise proper financial control over grant funding or to carry out thorough financial evaluation, which led to the organisation promoting loss-making events.

The group was also held collectively responsible for failing to ensure adequate systems were in place to monitor cash income through gate receipts and ticket sales as well as trade stands and corporate hospitality.

Its failure to establish proper lines of control had also allowed Ms McAleese to develop an inappropriate amount of autonomy.

Meanwhile, Mr Elder was deemed to have failed in his duties to meet with auditors as well as attend accountability meetings at the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.

He also failed to communicate relevant matters, including budget overspend, to the board, as well as to follow the organisation's complaints procedure.

Belfast Telegraph

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