Suspicious minds…

20 01 2008

In November DUP MLA Stephen Moutray asked the DFP Minister to put a number on departmental staff who’ve an unacceptable sick record and face disciplinary procedures.

Fair enough. In Peter Robinson’s reply he stated that there were 202 DARD staff facing discipline. This accounted for over a third of the pan-government total.

So naturally Moutray went to Gildernew to ask, why so many?

In her reply, she said that:

‘… with the exception of DARD, the figures provided by Peter Robinson MP MLA in AQW 1629/08 related only to the core Northern Ireland Government Departments and excluded executive agencies. To a large extent this explains the disparity in the figures with DARD.’

So she’s saying that DFP went to the extra trouble of counting in agency staff solely for her department. Why wasn’t the same criteria applied to all departments? How could DFP make that mistake? Surely the huge disparity in the table would have given DFP officials cause to stop and think. Or can this have been deliberate?

Moutray must be duty bound to seek the correct figures to his original question. And he must also seek an explanation and an apology. If the Department of Finance and PERSONNEL is finding it difficult to get an accurate picture of what’s going on inside departments, can it be accurate about what’s going on in society generally?

And poor Caitriona. DENI aren’t doing so well at answering Assembly Questions.

Priority questions aren’t such a priority for her… DENI answered only 3 of 51 priority questions on time. And for less time-pressured written questions DENI still only managed a turnaround of 47% on time.

In this context, she’s got a credible excuse for failing to supply Ministers with her statement ‘Outlining a Vision for our Education System’. Sloppy administration… just can’t get the staff…etc.

UUP MLA Basil McCrea has asked a series of questions from Ministers on precisely when they received a copy of the controversial statement.

Michelle Gildernew was able confirm that an email was sent on December 4. But happily, DCAL Minister Edwin Poots was more detailed in his answer.

Mr E Poots: I first became aware of the Ministerial Statement by the Education Minister when I saw it on the Indicative Timings for Assembly Business on the morning of 4th December 2007. My Private Office received the text of the statement by email at 10:51am on Tuesday 4th December 2007. As I was already in the Assembly chamber from 10:30am to 11:30am making a statement on the Community Festivals Fund, I did not receive this until 11:30am when the Education Minister had begun her statement. I had no discussions with the Minister for Education on the subject matter of her statement before it was issued.

DENI were emailing that statement 21 minutes after the session had started and Ministers had sat down in the Chamber? Don’t see that in the Ministerial Code.

Is this really how government business is to be conducted? The Ministerial Code can’t supply trust where it’s lacking. Clearly the Minister was certain she would either be gagged or her statement leaked if she went through the proper channels.

McCrea is building a case for a breach of code. If he’s wise he’ll produce his dosier after the Paisley Jnr roadshow is long gone. But recall Ritchie’s treatment over the transformation fund… can the Education Minister be judged too harshly for bypassing procedure in order to get her position to MLAs and debated in the Chamber?

Nevertheless, the Ministerial Code also binds Ministers to ensuring ‘key performance targets and objectives have been met’. Someone better submit a priority written question to find out what DENI thinks of it all.

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