Should Paul Priestly, uniquely ‘suspended’ as Permanent Secretary be ‘slotted’ back into the system paying a low price?

Is it a case of ‘looking after their own?’ How will the public view the Civil Service’s reinstatement ( at a reduced grade only ) of a senior colleague, adjudged by his minister to have ‘overstepped the mark?’

Paul Priestly was firstly a husband, a father and a career civil servant almost at the top of the tree in his profession when he was deemed by his minister Conor Murphy to have acted ultra vires. He helped draft a letter for an ‘outside’ party to criticise one of the sacred cows of Assembly committees, the Public Accounts Committee. That Committee overrides all committees, holding politicians and their departments to account.

When Mr Murphy deemed his permanent secretary’s behaviour to be incompatible with his role as Head of Department it fell to Civil Service Supremo Bruce Robinson to deal with the matter.

The parallel in the private sector would be a PLC’s chief executive working against the interests of his/her company through providing a stick to beat an arm of his/her own organisation. In the commercial world the feet of such a chief executive wouldn’t hit the ground. He or she would not get time to clear the desk. How do I know? I witnessed it with my own eyes. The question then arises why should it be any different in the public sector?

I have stated what happens in the commercial world. Laurence Mac Kenzie, the chief executive of Northern Ireland Water is no longer in that company. Why, logically should he not have been brought down a peg and why was he not offered a post as Head of Corporate Affairs in NIW with a 10% pay cut? I would rejoice were I exposed to a mere 10% cut in my wages.

Sorry, the perception flowing from this whole affair to the ‘outside world’ will be that the ‘boys always look after their own.’ There are those who argue that Conor Murphy did not act procedurally correctly and that argument may well be sustainable. The fine detail is now lost. Paul Priestly is still inside the tent on a salary probably three/four times the size of workers two miles down the Newtownards Road.

There are those who hold to the view that The Executive will make the Civil Service pay a price for this arbitrariness in favour of ‘one of their own.’ How can Martin Mc Guinness and Peter Robinson buy into this? Watch this space.

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