‘It is a matter that the NI executive needs to address in terms of accountability – Kieran Bannon.


THREE hundred so-called gagging orders have been used to silence public-sector workers – the majority former police officers – since 2009. The orders can be used to prevent staff speaking publicly to the press about their former employer.

Also known as confidentiality clauses, they are usally agreed when an employee is made redundent or leaves an employer following a workplace issue or disagreement. More than 230 police officers and 50 staff members at the Stormont executive agreed to confidentiality clauses. The clauses can be used in settlement agreements to stop industrial tribunal cases being heard and can cost the taxpayer tens of thousands of pounds. In March the British government banned gagging orders for NHS employees after it emerged that more than £18 million had been spent on silencing 600 staff. The issue has caused uproar at Westminster, with communities secretary Eric Pickles warning against using “under-the-counter pay-offs to silence departing staff”.

Civil service union Nipsa expressed concerns over public funds being used “simply to silence individuals”. Kieran Bannon, assistant general secretary of Nipsa, said that confidentiality clauses can “undermine the principles of accountability and propriety”. “It is a matter that the NI executive needs to address in terms of accountability, firstly in relation to the use of public funds but equally the accountability of public-sector employers for their actions,” he said. A total of 236 PSNI officers agreed to confidentiality clauses as part of employment tribunal settlements. Almost 200 of these were part of a class action settled earlier this year, according to a freedom of information request submitted by  The Irish NewsThe Department for Social Development (DSD) accounted for the vast majority of the confidentiality clauses used in the executive, with 39 imposed since 2009.

Five staff members in the Department of Agriclture and Rural Development agreed to confidentiality clauses as part of compromise agreements. The Department of Health also used confidentiality clauses in two out-of-court settlements relating to industrial tribunal cases. Other public bodies also revealed some employees agreed to gagging orders over the past four years. Eight assembly staff members agreed to confidentiality clauses. None of the cases prevented employees from whistleblowing. A total of 16 Western Health and Social Care Trust employees and one ambulance service staff member agreed to confidentiality clauses since 2009. One Belfast trust employee agreed to a confidentiality clause as part of the termination arrangement. The trust said the clause was mutually agreed and phrased to “protect both the employer and employee”, with no specific clauses in relation to the press. According to employment lewyers, most compromise agreements include confidentiality clauses. They can be used to bar employees from talking publicly or to the press about their former employer of the circumstances under which they left. Mr Bannon said confidentiality clauses usually form part of compromise agreements and are used in tribunal settlements to stop cases being heard. “Nipsa would have concern if public funds were used simply to silence individuals,” he said. “The use of confidentiality clauses means the general workforce and the public are not aware of the actions of the employer and in a case involving public-sector staff it is even more important that the employer is held to account for its actions given the potential impact on public funds.” No figures were available to determine how much was spent in the north’s staff settlements that used confidentiality clauses. A DSD spokesman said : “We are not in a position to make an informed comment how this department’s figures compare to others. DSD is, however, the largest of the Northern Ireland Civil Service departments.”

With many thanks to : Brendan HughesIrish News.

SF minister approves IRA statue funds

�Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland - 19th November 2011 Mandatory Credit - Photo-Jonathan Porter/Presseye.  Traditional Unionist Voice party conference at The Royal Hotel in Cookstown, Co. Tyrone.  Party leader Jim Allister gives his speech.

�Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland – 19th November 2011 Mandatory Credit – Photo-Jonathan Porter/Presseye. Traditional Unionist Voice party conference at The Royal Hotel in Cookstown, Co. Tyrone. Party leader Jim Allister gives his speech.

PUBLIC funds could go to renovate an IRA memorial, Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill has confirmed.

The Sinn Fein minister last night said that she has approved funding the controversial Crossmaglen statue which sits in an area where the IRA carried out some of its most barbaric and sectarian murders.

It is believed that the monument, which was erected in the 1970s, may be in line for up to £30,000 of taxpayers’ money.

Last night Ms O’Neill was accused of a “monstrous” decision by TUV leader Jim Allister, whose questioning elicited the information.

The funding application is to come from the agriculture department’s ‘Rural Development funds’.

When asked about the situation yesterday, Ms O’Neill said in a statement issued through her department that she had approved the monument as “eligible” for funding but said the final decision would be taken by a group which distributes money on behalf of her department.

“My officials have advised that the project appears to be eligible within the terms of Measure 3.6 subject to rigorous assessment,” she said.

She said that the project was being assessed by the Southern Organisation for Action in Rural Areas (SOAR), a group which involves Craigavon, Armagh and Newry and Mourne councils, and that it would take a final decision on the funding.

The Sinn Fein minister said that the application had come from the “Crossmaglen Memorial and Heritage Committee” as a request for funding from monies set aside for “the conservation and upgrading of the rural heritage”.

“The proposed project from the Crossmaglen Memorial and Heritage Committee is for the preservation, updating and completion of a monument located in the square in Crossmaglen.

“This involves the addition of several plaques to the existing monument. The wording of the plaques relates to the background and siting of the monument, and information about the sculpture.”

Ms O’Neill said that there had been no previous applications to the Department of Agriculture to fund the monument.

Mr Allister said that if the funding is approved it “would not only be an outrageous misuse of public money, an abuse of the Rural Development funding, but utterly divisive and incompatible with the department’s equality obligations”.

He added: “This monument celebrates sectarian murder by glorifying IRA members who made the savage killing of security forces and local citizens, such as those at Kingsmills, Darkley, Whitecross and Tullyvallen, their evil stock and trade.

“Michelle O’Neill must come clean on whether she and her department are presently considering such an application and, if so, let her urgently declare that it will not be approved. Any other decision would be monstrous.

“Measure 3.6 of the RDP exists for the “conservation and upgrading of the rural heritage”, not for the glorification of terrorism.”


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