6 September 2012 

At Stormont yesterday afternoon, the Public Accounts Select Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly was considering issues relating to  safeguarding of the province’s historic buildings.  A classic illustration of the abuse of current practice is the fate of the courthouse in Crumlin Road, where the Diplock trials –without jury – were conducted in the 1970s and 1980s.  That building was “sold” to a developer for one pound, in anticipation of redevelopment as a  five star accommodation.  In the event there was no development, the building was trashed, and ncinerated and is now a liability.  The purchaser is being prosecuted for failing to redevelop in line with the sale agreement.

 One of the issues which arose at the Select Committee which I observed yesterday related to a complaint about the Government’s inaction on an allegation that the European Union had been defrauded of between 2.5 and  3 million pounds in a redevelopment. The circumstancwes arose in the mid 1990s.  The Administration found there was little that it could do.  The PAC had reports from the Auditor General and the relevant department.  The Auditor General’s Office and the department seemed reluctant to act on the complaint.

 When questioned by the committee chair, the responses of the  chief execdutive and the Auditor General were interesting.   The Auditor General indicated that the passage of time since the mid 1990s made the issues too old to investigate; there was insufficient evidence to make a determination. When asked if he was “…not then going to do something”, the Auditor General indicated that was “…more or less the case…”.

The select committee then  drilled down into an interesting matter.  A problem in this case  was that a manuscript record taken by an official at a contentious meeting was subseqently converted to an electronic record.  The manuscript note was destroyed and  was unavailable when the electronic record was challenged.  The issue became the status of a disputed report based on that record, if the record is no longer available? Although desirable to keep the manuscript note, if the content is fully transcribed, must it be kept?

The PAC appreciated that the complaint was likely to be referred to the European Commission.  It directed that no record be destroyed so that any subsequent consideration of the case would not be muddied by lost “evidence”.

 Renewed confontation in a small part of Belfast between  community factions, leading over the last 4 nights to more than 60 police injuries, seems less likely to occur tonight….  so far there has been none of the noise of helicopter surveillance of earlier in the week, and none of the chorus of emergency vehicle sirens of last night.  The excitement is likely to have a connection with the centenary, on 28 September, of the signing  by Carson of the Ulster Covernant objecting to the Home Rule Bill.