Murphy criticises DRD apology to former NIW director

February 25, 2013

By Christine Keighery

Sinn Fein MP, Conor Murphy has criticised an apology issued by the Department of Regional Development to the former director of Northern Ireland Water, Declan Gormley, saying it had not been issued on his behalf.

The DRD last week settled a case taken by Mr Gormley by apologising to him and acknowledging that he “was not guilty of any personal wrongdoing or misconduct.”  In addition, DRD will pay Mr Gormley’s legal costs.

In December, the former NIW Director won a libel case against Sinn Fein over the contents of press statements issued a year after the Regional Development Minister at the time, Conor Murphy, had removed him from the board along with three other non-executive directors from NI Water in March 2010.

The sackings came after an independent review team investigation in to the awarding of contracts.  Mr Gormley had emphatically denied any wrongdoing and claimed the “reckless and dishonest” press releases, which supported the decision to sack him, had damaged his reputation.

The High Court found Sinn Fein guilty of defaming the former NIW director and awarded him damages of £80,000.

Commenting on the DRD’s apology, Mr Murphy said,

“Danny Kennedy’s response to recent legal cases displays a serious weakness as a minister and will have longer term implications both for ministerial authority and the ability to investigate allegations made by civil servants and others.

“He has, for reasons of political expediency and a desire to try and cause political damage to opponents, set these issues and clear advice from senior legal figures to one side.”

Regional development minister, Danny Kennedy, said the department also acknowledged that Mr Gormley’s  removal from office “did not reflect adversely in any respect on his character or integrity.”

Mr Gormley has accepted the apology. No damages are being paid.

In a written statement to the assembly last week, Mr Kennedy said: “Following the recent High Court case in which Mr Gormley was awarded damages against Sinn Fein, he had indicated that all that he wanted from the litigation against the department and the other defendants was an apology and the legal costs incurred in the case.

“In light of this statement I felt duty bound to ensure that this statement was explored with Mr Gormley’s legal advisers.

“Following tough negotiations by both parties, it was eventually possible to reach a settlement on the basis of an apology on behalf of the department and the payment of Mr Gormley’s reasonable legal costs but without payment of damages.”

The SDLP have also called for an independent inquiry into Mr Gormley’s dismissal and the activities of the independent review team, on whose recommendations Mr Gormley “and his four innocent colleagues were dismissed.”

TUV leader Jim Allister welcomed the apology saying,

“After the result of his libel action against Sinn Fein this outcome was both sensible and just. Mr Gormley is to be commended for settling in this fashion.”