Belfast Telegraph

McGuinness denies deceitful dealings as Stormont spin doctor as row continues

By Noel McAdam

Martin McGuinness has insisted there was no secrecy or "underhand dealings" in the appointment of Stormont's new £75,000-a-year Press secretary.

Quizzed by angry MLAs, the Deputy First Minister said David Gordon brought "a different level of expertise ... to a very difficult job."

Nonetheless, controversy around the appointment of the former Stephen Nolan show editor is growing, almost a week after it was first announced.

The decision made by Mr McGuinness and First Minister Arlene Foster - using special legal powers - is now to be probed by an Assembly committee. Stormont Speaker Robin Newton yesterday prevented it being debated in the Assembly - and came in for criticism - only for it then to be raised at Question Time with Mr McGuinness.

To laughter from Ulster Unionists, Mr McGuinness said: "There was absolutely no secrecy or underhand dealings." TUV leader Jim Allister shouted: "Except when you changed the law."

Mr McGuinness retorted: "Some minority Members can laugh all they like, but the appointment of the Press secretary was legally compliant."

Referring to the use of the royal prerogative powers to avoid advertising the post, Alliance deputy leader Naomi Long referred to Mr McGuinness as "your highness".

The UUP's Jo-Anne Dobson asked him how "as a proud republican" it felt to act like a Monarch.

"I feel grand, absolutely grand," Mr McGuinness replied, and added he was confident Mr Gordon (below) would work well with the existing 55 Press officers in the Executive Information Service to help put the Assembly "in a good light".

Mrs Dobson said it was a lesson in how to "spin a spin-doctor".

Then reflecting his party leader Mike Nesbitt's jibe that the Executive is using "North Korean levels of secrecy", the UUP's Steve Aiken asked Mr McGuinness "what further advice we can expect from Kim Jong-un on message management within the Northern Ireland Executive?" The DFM responded: "This is all nonsense, it is all a two-day wonder. We have every confidence in (David Gordon) to do his job, and that is what is frightening the opposition parties the most."

Outside the chamber, Mr McGuinness argued the Executive had been within its rights not to advertise the role, which largely replaces the out-going Director of Communications, Stephen Grimason .

Mr McGuinness stressed: "The position was dealt with in a way that was absolutely and totally legal."

Mr Gordon, who remains a BBC employee at present, was not available for comment yesterday as the storm over his appointment also embroiled Speaker Newton.

Alliance deputy leader Naomi Long said when he replaced Mitchel McLaughlin, Mr Newton publicly recognised his role includes protecting "the interests, integrity and procedures of the (Assembly)." TUV leader Jim Allister asked the Speaker whether it was appropriate that prerogative powers "should be used to upstage the House".

Mr Newton, however, insisted the subject of the appointment was "clearly out of line" with issues which can be raised as a 'matter of the day', adding: "My decisions are no more open to challenge or debate than my predecessors, nor do I intend to allow Members to try to draw me into areas of party-political debate."

Belfast Telegraph


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