Posted By: June 26, 2013

Brian Feeney. Irish News (Belfast). Wednesday, June 26, 2013
WHEN Gerry Kelly finally managed to make contact with the policeman in charge of the
operation that facilitated last Friday’s Orange march between the exclusively
nationalist New Lodge and Carrick Hill districts the initial result was less than
satisfactory. When Kelly remonstrated about the PSNI Land Rover driving at him, the
senior policeman said he could complain to the police ombudsman. At this Kelly
grimaced with frustration and said “I want it dealt with now”. In many ways this
exchange exemplified the major problem with the north’s public apparatus. If you
laid the dozens of quangos, agencies and commissions end to end they would never
reach a conclusion. Do you remember the incident in which a policeman shot a car
thief dead in Ballynahinch in 2006? The police ombudsman investigated and sent the
report to the DPP who decided to take no action. Sounds straightforward in that one
sentence doesn’t it? The reality is different. The ombudsman’s investigation took a
couple of years and the DPP decided in December 2009 not to prosecute. The decisions
were made public in December 2011. South Down MLA Jim Wells said at the time: “It is
absolutely extraordinary that this case has taken almost six years to be completed.”

No it isn’t, and that’s the point. With any luck the outcome of the ombudsman’s
investigation into Friday’s events might emerge sometime in 2014. It’s the same with
everything else. Our court system is a disgrace. Last week men were sentenced for
rioting at Ardoyne in July last year. Last year? Remember the riots in English
cities in August 2011? By

August 15, 3,100 had been arrested and more than 1,000 charged. By September 1,
1,566 had appeared in court and sentences were being handed down throughout that
month. Some had their appeals heard the following spring.

Here, people arrested in connection with the ‘fleg protests’ will still be on remand
in summer 2014. Completely unacceptable but people are so accustomed to manana land
here that no one thinks anything of it. Maybe it’s because internment by remand
became the norm in the 1980s with people routinely spending two years in custody
before trial. The same ethos prevails at Stormont.

Nothing ever happens.

Remember the Education and Skills Authority, the world’s most expensive non-existent
body? It has been about to be up and running every six months since 2008. So far it
has cost nearly £13 million and is scheduled to be in operation on December 31. This
year? Every year the Northern Ireland Audit Office reports that some government
departments have not complied with required standards of accounting. What happens?
The following year the same departments fail again. Departments ignore procedures
and overspend. Take Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL). In March the Comptroller and
Auditor General Kieran Donnelly reported that in the case of the Lyric Theatre,
‘there was no scrutiny of the tender process by the Department or its agents’. He
expressed concern about, ‘adjustments made to tendered prices, unavailable tender
documentation, absence of a representative of government at tender evaluation,
perceived conflicts of interest’. And what? The combined cost of all seven DCAL
projects overran by £28.4m or 31 per cent above the original estimate. In the case
of the MAC the overrun was a monster 91.3 per cent. So? These are only examples. You
could go through any department and find similar profligacy with public money and
failure to abide by good practice let alone acceptable practice. What happens?
Nathin. It’s all repeated the next year. No civil servant, official, quangocrat or
minster is punished, disciplined or in any way discommoded. In fact you’d wonder
what the point of the NIAO is when Stormont departments ignore its strictures. NIAO
has no power to deal with any miscreants any more than the paper tiger that is the
Public Accounts Committee. We often hear that the north is the most regulated
society in Europe with so many checks and balances and oversight bodies. The reality
is that none of them is any use if they can’t deliver a quick result to satisfy
people that there is some justice or people are ‘called to account’ as the favourite
phrase goes. No wonder Gerry Kelly was exasperated at the offer of an Ombudsman’s