Watchdog raises concerns over handling of water crisis

Public Appointments Commissioner Felicity Huston Public Appointments Commissioner Felicity Huston raised concerns about the role of two people.

Concerns about the role of two people investigating the Christmas water crisis have been raised by the Commissioner for Public Appointments.

In documents released to the BBC, Felicity Huston said the perceived independence of Phil Holder and Heather Moorhead may be undermined.

She said this was because because both individuals were previously considered for roles at NI Water.

The crisis caused great inconvenience over Christmas and New Year.

An inquiry into how Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy and his department handled the episode is being run by Phil Holder and Heather Moorhead - who were appointed by the Office of First and Deputy First Minister.

In January, the BBC revealed that Phil Holder was interviewed for the interim chairmanship of Northern Ireland Water but he was rejected by Conor Murphy - the very man he is now investigating.

Phil Holder told the BBC that he did not believe this constituted a conflict of interest.

Now documents released to us following a Freedom of Information request give us some information about Phil Holder's fellow investigator Heather Moorhead .

The information came to light after a Freedom of Information request to Felicity Huston who examines appointments to public bodies.

The material shows that Heather Moorhead's name was also submitted to Conor Murphy as a potential interim director of Northern Ireland Water.

In a bizarre twist, staff assisting Phil Holder and Heather Moorhead's inquiry wrote to the Commissioner for Public Appointments.

In the email Phil Holder and Heather Moorhead's team wanted to know how the non-executive directors of Northern Ireland Water were appointed - the very jobs that Phil Holder and Heather Moorhead were considered for.

In her response, Felicity Huston told the two investigators: "Both of you were considered for appointment to the interim board by both DRD - the department you are now reviewing - and Minister Murphy."

The letter states that Heather Moorhead was on a long list of possible directors which was submitted to Minister Murphy, and Phil Holder was interviewed for the post of chair of the interim board

Felicity Huston then wrote to Phil Holder and Heather Moorhead : "Although your appointment is not regulated by me it would be remiss of me not to draw attention to this situation.

"I believe that once this information is in the public domain, it may undermine your perceived independence, or the 'external' nature of your review."

The documents also show that the Commissioner for Public Appointments raised her concerns with the head of the Civil Service.

Politicians at Stormont previously called for the DRD inquiry to be suspended and for Phil Holder to be removed after the BBC broadcast the revelation that he had been considered for a job at NI Water.

The BBC sent a series of questions to Heather Moorhead.

She declined to comment and referred us to the Northern Ireland Executive's press office.

We also sent questions to the Office of First and Deputy First Minister and the Department For Regional Development.

We have not received a reply.

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