The fate of Paul Priestly the most senior civil servant ever suspended in Government here will be revealed next week.
The former Permanent Secretary of the Department of Regional Development was stood down from his job pending an investigation into a letter sent to an Assembly committee last year.
It had been alleged that Mr Priestly, had assisted in the drafting of a letter for the CEO of one of Northern Ireland’s highest profile companies in wake of his alleged resentment at line of questioning from members of the Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee.
A strongly worded memo from Phoenix Energy chief executive Peter Dixon had been sent to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
It followed a PAC hearing covering Mr Dixon’s role in investigating a contracts controversy at Northern Ireland Water. The charge against Paul Priestly is that he had a hand in the preparation of the Dixon letter to PAC.
The implication of this would be that Mr Priestly was allegedly working against the interests of PAC one of the Assembly’s most important committees. As Permanent Secretary of his Department Mr Priestly was ‘accounting officer’ for it and this carries serious responsibilities.
Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy confirmed last August he had been in touch with the Head of the Civil Service Bruce Robinson.
Mr Murphy said he had done so “in light of new information received by me today in a phone call from Paul Priestly”. He added:
“I have urged the Head of the Civil Service to properly address this matter and with urgency.”
Later a statement issued by the Executive’s Press office stated: “The Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, Bruce Robinson has suspended Paul Priestly, Permanent Secretary of the Department for Regional Department pending an investigation into events following the PAC hearing on NI Water.
“The investigation will consider information which has just emerged today.
“The suspension, in accordance with Northern Ireland Civil Service personnel procedures, is for the purpose of facilitating the investigation and is not a disciplinary penalty.”
Bruce Robinson who retires this summer has completed his report on Mr Priestly’s future and will make his decision known to the public next week.