Recently, i.e. in the last month or so, David Gordon de-friended me on Facebook after I had asked him some pertinent questions relating to his appointment as spin doctor to the Foster-McGuinness politburo, such as how much is he being paid to shill for the power-sharing Executive?.
But the former Belfast Telegraph and BBC journalist was unwilling to shed any light on the circumstances of his appointment, which was facilitated outside normal procedures via Royal Prerogative powers, and the next day I discovered his Facebook move to cut me off.
Isn’t that another way to exercise censorship, something that Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin might do?
But he is not alone. The story below, from today’s News Letter, demonstrates that his reticence is shared by his employers at Stormont Castle who have declined to disclose the code of conduct covering his employment terms on the grounds that to do so would infringe his privacy rights.
The same rebuff was delivered recently to a couple of Assembly members who wrote the Executive asking for an explanation of his role and the circumstances of his employment.
So, the taxpayer is paying his salary and various emoluments but is not allowed to know what rules govern his employment, what were circumstances governing his hiring and just exactly what his role is?
It is enough to make one think that the Foster/McGuinness cabal have something to hide. If so, I wonder what it is?
Stormont Castle is refusing to release a copy of the code of conduct under which its new top spin doctor operates, claiming that to do so would be an unlawful breach of his privacy.
The Executive Office (TEO) made the claim in response to a News Letter Freedom of Information request for material relating to the appointment and role of former Nolan Show editor David Gordon, who was appointed Executive press secretary almost three months ago.
The Assembly has similarly hit a brick wall in attempting to extract information which is routinely released when it relates to civil servants or ministers.Last month, TEO responded to a request from Alliance MLA Stephen Farry for a copy of the press secretary’s code of conduct. Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness responded: “The code of conduct in relation to the Executive press secretary is contained within the terms and conditions of the appointment.”However, in a Kafkaesque situation the same ministers had the previous month told UUP MLA Philip Smith that Mr Gordon’s “terms and conditions of appointment are a confidential matter”.
Now, TEO has refused to release the information to the News Letter, citing concerns for the privacy of the man whose role is to be the voice of the First and deputy First Ministers.
Under the Freedom of Information Act, this newspaper requested a copy of “all material relating to the role of Executive Press Secretary” and specifically asked for “a copy of all of the terms and conditions by which the Press Secretary will operate and by which he will be bound”.
Stormont Castle responded to that September request yesterday. However, most of the relevant information was withheld, a decision which we have appealed. In the FoI response, TEO argued that “an individual’s contract and their terms and conditions of appointment are a confidential matter” and were therefore covered by confidentiality exemptions in the FoI Act.
Although the News Letter requested “all information” about the decision to create the role, the little material which has been released only starts on the day that Mr Gordon was formally offered the job – 9 September.
The first piece of information released comes after the law had been secretly changed – as this newspaper revealed days after Mr Gordon’s appointment – under Royal Prerogative powers, something which allowed Mrs Foster and Mr McGuinness to bypass normal fair employment law to appoint the individual of their choice.
The News Letter asked Mr Gordon whether – given that as a journalist he was a firm public proponent of open government in general, and the Freedom of Information Act in particular – he had any objection to the material being released. At the time of going to press, there had been no response.
In 2010, when Mr Gordon was at the Belfast Telegraph, he wrote in a typically hard-hitting piece: “Having strict rules on standards in public life does not stop politicians misbehaving. But it can at least send out the message that ethics are important.”
In response to the FoI request, TEO did, however, release letters which it received from two public employment watchdogs. The day after Mr Gordon’s appointment, Brian Rowntree, chairman of the Civil Service Commissioners, wrote to the head of the civil service, Sir Malcolm McKibbin, asking for a “personal assurance that this appointment has been made and managed in an appropriate manner”.
Two days later, the Commissioner for Public Appointments, Judena Leslie, wrote to Sir Malcolm. However, Ms Leslie’s letter wrongly claimed that the press release announcing Mr Gordon’s appointment claimed that it had been “made under the rules for public appointments”.