To most people including journalists stories about NI Water were a big yawn. For the greater part the story of the goings on in NIW was being addressed by Jamie Delargy of UTV(who is encyclopaedic on this subject), Martina Purdy of the BBC and Mick Fealty of Slugger O Toole.
For months an unknown businessman Declan Gormley who was a non executive director of NIW had been seeking to connect with journalists to highlight what he saw as an injustice visited upon him when he was dismissed after a report was delivered to DRD minister Conor Murphy which addressed the awarding of ‘roll over contracts’ among other matters.
To Jamie Delargy Gormley made sense and he pursued this story like a man possessed.
All this time Mick Fealty was rattling Civil Service cages at Parliament Buildings with the latest non profit making missive on Slugger O Toole.
At the week-end UTV started to promote the Julie O Connor/Delargy NIW exposee to be aired on Monday night.
There was tension in the air in Parliament Buildings throughout the day among senior civil servants on Monday with one key player making herself scarce when I sought to cross examine her.
The structure of the UTV programme was curiously idiosyncratic but now we know why. It was a legal minefield and the programme makers covered their backs in giving Conor Murphy all the time he needed to answer claims made in the programme.
He contended his action in removing the directors of NIW was justified speaking several times about “wrongdoing.”
The strength of the programme was the weight of evidence which surfaced to underpin claims made by Delargy.
The substance of the charges levelled went effectively unchallenged at Executive level.
It was clear however that Tuesday morning started out with the upper echelons of the civil service gearing up to shore up Paul Priestly the Permanent Secretary of the DRD central to the television output.
Utterances from the SDLP’s Patsy Mc Glone and John Dallat in the early part of the day were deemed by Sinn Fein as gratuitous and amounting to an attack on a Sinn Fein minister.
As far as Declan Gormley was concerned at last through the UTV programme he had managed to get his point across that there was more to what had happened to him than met the eye.
For almost a month at least two journalists, one in the BBC and Jamie Delargy of UTV had been seeking to evidentially stand up a story about a letter or missive forwarded to the Public Accounts Committee on Phoenix Gas headed note paper and in the name of Peter Dixon which allegedly had the finger prints of a senior civil servant on it from within DRD.
On Tuesday morning it is reported Declan Gormley briefed Mitchell Mc Laughlin of Sinn Fein about a reported correspondence from Paul Priestly to Peter Dixon of Phoenix Gas who had been a member of the Independent Review Team established by Priestly to investigate NIW’s workings.
In the course of Tuesday morning we are told Gormley framed a question for the office of FOI.
He was very specific in stating the timing and the date of the email of which he was now seeking sighting.
He was reportedly advised the said correspondence could not be located. Gormley was increasingly specific in articulating the substance of that which he was requesting.
Sinn Fein was now pro active on the case. They were hot on the hunt for something explosive.
The head of the FOI office realised something was amiss and procedurally the Head of the Civil Service Bruce Robinson was alerted.
A conversation ensued between Paul Priestly and Bruce Robinson.
Priestly reportedly bared his soul. There is a suggestion at the end of his exchange with Mr Robinson that he hoped an appeal to his boss Conor Murphy’s humanity might rescue him from ignominy.
He was barking up the wrong tree.
Priestly reached his boss by phone but Mr Murphy was no longer standing by his man as he had done less than 48 hours earlier on UTV.
About three O’Clock on Tuesday I was advised Mr Priestly’s capacity to remain in his post was rapidly diminishing.
In the wake of the terse conversation with Priestly Conor Murphy called Bruce Robinson and told him Mr Priestly’s position was no longer ‘tenable.’
He alerted Robinson he would be issuing a statement to this effect.
The Head of the Civil Service accordingly announced that Mr Priestly was being ‘suspended.’
There is speculation that the Public Accounts Committee will attempt to drive a horse and coaches through what some members fear is ‘a cosy cartel.’
[This article originally appeared on Slugger O’Toole]