Belfast Telegraph

Lack of disciplinary action over failed quango utterly unacceptable, says MLA

By Adrian Rutherford

The lack of disciplinary action over failings at a defunct quango heavily criticised in a government report has been slammed.

A Stormont watchdog said the collapse of the Northern Ireland Events Company (NIEC) was one of the biggest scandals it has investigated.

Yet almost a decade after it went bust with huge debts, not one person has been disciplined.

Disqualification proceedings against board members only began last year - the day before a damning Audit Office report was published.

Despite MLAs suspecting that fraud "on a grand scale" occurred, police have made no arrests.

TUV leader Jim Allister said the lack of action was shameful.

"It is utterly unacceptable that there were never any counter-actions taken in terms of discipline," he said.

"There seems to have been an acceptable level of incompetence."

Ukip MLA David McNarry, who has campaigned for nearly 10 years for a full inquiry, was also strongly critical.

He is unhappy that the findings of a report, commissioned by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) at a cost of £1.2m, was never made public.

"The people involved are being allowed to drift away in the smoke with the cloaking of investigation still under departmental wraps," he said.

The NIEC was formed in 1997 to support major sports and music events.

Although it received £18m in public funding between 1997 and 2008, it folded with debts of £1.6m.

Yesterday a report by Stormont's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) concluded it was "the biggest scandal that has yet arisen in the history of the committee under devolution".

It said the "level of scandal involved is completely shocking."

False accounts were submitted, a signature on an overdraft agreement was allegedly forged and anticipated income of £250,000 vanished.

The report also found:

  • Janice McAleese was appointed chief executive despite failing to meet essential criteria;
  • A £226,000 bike track built by her partner didn't go to tender and was used only once;
  • Two withdrawals of £300,000 were made using the same document;
  • False accounts were filed in a desperate bid to cover up losses.

Enquiries by this newspaper yesterday failed to find evidence of substantive disciplinary action by a range of authorities.

The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL), the NIEC's sponsor body, said "significant changes" had been made, but confirmed: "No disciplinary proceedings have taken place in respect of the Northern Ireland Events Company."

DETI said: "Pre-proceedings letters were issued on September 28, 2015 and no further information can be provided at this time in order to respect the legal process."

The letters were sent just 24 hours before a highly-critical Audit Office report was published.

A police investigation has been completed, but no arrests were made.

A PSNI spokesperson said: "Police enquiries have concluded and a report will be prepared for the PPS."

Belfast Telegraph


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