Probity and Transparency are on trial in the Public Sector on back of several appointments to key posts.

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A raft of appointments and musical chairs in the public sector in Northern Ireland in recent years begs many questions.

Time out of number police officers who availed of big ‘payoffs’ on back of ‘Patten’ walk straight into key security posts in both the private and public sector. One such ‘shelter’ has been The Historical Enquiries Team in certain cases.

Many former police officers having taken early retirement under Patten had their pensions topped up and left the service with a golden parachute. You the public paid at ‘exiting’ point. You the public paid again at re-entry point in the case of re-employment in the public sector.

This practice of re- employing retired teachers has been common-place for years yet thousands of young people can’t get a teaching post.

The performance of the office of Adrian Donaldson as chief executive of the Policing Board was independently evaluated. Mr Donaldson was out of work for a period in wake of this development on paid leave. A financial settlement was agreed and he left again remunerated from public funds. He is now employed as Head of Corporate Affairs in Lisburn City Council. The public is paying again now that the Council adjudged Mr Donaldson is the appropriate person for the job.

Sinn Fein was in the eye of the storm for weeks over Caral Ní Chuilin’s appointment of former inmate Mary Mc Ardle as her SPAD. Finance Minister Sammy Wilson has asked his officials to look at the current system for appointing special party political advisors.

Mary Mc Ardle’s appointment hauled the issue of the ‘past’ right back centre stage again. That appointment angered many members of the public but it did not impact in Sinn Fein unlike the appointing of former special advisor to Michael Mc Gimpsey Philip Robinson, now doing the same job for Danny Kennedy.

Mr Kennedy’s choice of SPAD has ripped the Ulster Unionist Party wide open. A number of up and coming young people were specifically invited to apply for the post working to DRD minister Kennedy. Mindful of the backlash against Sinn Fein it is reported that Mr Kennedy took advice from the Department of Finance about appropriate procedures for making any appointment. It has to be stated that the post of SPAD is a party political appointment.

No one is pointing a finger of blame at Philip Robinson who put himself forward for the post and was given it. What has caused the rupture in party ranks was the composition of the panel sitting in with Danny Kennedy during interviews. Insiders are alleging that the party is being left open to a possible charge of entertaining a potential conflict of interests where an appointment is at stake.

There is a palpable anger in party circles and one senior source claims a gulf has opened up between Tom Elliott and Danny Kennedy who has responsibility for airports and roads here. One commercial interest is reported to be very concerned at what has come to pass. Potential new blood desirous to strengthen the Ulster Unionist Party, feeling outwitted, is now threatening to walk away. Perhaps the one man whose standing has suffered mostly is Danny Kennedy who is generally speaking liked inside and outside the party.

This controversy comes on the back of the reinstatement of Paul Priestly, suspended by his minister Conor Murphy. He had been accused of working against the interests of the Public Accounts Committee in the Northern Ireland Water controversy. In the eyes of many serving and former senior civil servants Mr Priestly has got off ‘very lightly.’

At the heart of all this is the issue of public confidence in those charged with running government here.

With the spotlight increasingly falling on the appointment and modus operandi of Policing Ombudsman Al Hutchinson surprise is being expressed in inner sanctum circles about the apparent ‘parachuting’ of Amanda Craig into the Press Office of the Northern Ireland Office. No one is casting aspersions on Miss Craig who has experience in the press office of the PSNI and up until recently was the face of the Historical Enquiries Team.

The manner of her arrival in the NIO press office is puzzling to many. The affable and very experienced Head of Communications and advisor to the Secretary of State, Dennis Godfrey is not retiring this side of October according to close friends. His post will ‘go with him’ but the long lead-in to his replacement now expected to be Miss Craig is viewed as baffling. This is a post which would interest many inside and outside the civil service particularly in this very difficult economic climate. The Head of Communications in the NIO, even in a dramatically scaled back NIO has the ear of the Secretary of State and has to advise him or her at times on highly contentious and sensitive matters. The post is being downgraded but this grade in civil service terms brings with it a very acceptable salary in this climate.

The downside to many of these appointments from the establishment’s point of view is that there seems to be a lack of transparency. Probity is seen to be on trial. The old ‘security’ argument for ‘ a cloak of secrecy’ over anything and everything is no longer sustainable. The days of ‘need to know basis’ are over. The above are but a few of the many appointments exercising people right now.

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I am a regular contributor to discussion programmes on TV and radio both at home and abroad. An experienced political editor and author specialising in Politics, Security and 20th Century Art.

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