Former NI Events Company board members in legal battle

Former NI Events Company chief executive Janice McAleese was banned from acting as a company director for 14 years
Former NI Events Company chief executive Janice McAleese was banned from acting as a company director for 14 years

Eleven former board members at a now defunct quango set up to attract show business and sporting stars to Northern Ireland are facing a legal bid to have them banned from acting as company directors.

Disqualification proceedings issued by the Department for the Economy over their roles on the NI Events Company began at the High Court in Belfast on Thursday.

Court

Court

The application follows critical reports into the oversight and running of a body which folded back in 2007.

But lawyers for some of those who sat on its board claimed they were being made scapegoats to deflect attention from civil servants who failed to provide proper scrutiny.

The 11 named in the papers are: Samuel Mervyn Elder, Jasper Perry, Gerry Lennon, Jim Rodgers, James Clarke, Thomas Alan Clarke, Paul Henry McWilliams, William David White, Aideen Corr, Victor Campbell Haslett, and Catherine Williamson.

Michael Humphreys QC, representing the department, told the court some of the respondents have indicated they plan to contest the proceedings.

Others were said to be considering whether to give undertakings in connect with possible disqualifications.

Following a brief hearing the case was adjourned until November.

Earlier this year the NI Events Company’s former chief executive, Janice McAleese, was banned from acting as a company director for 14 years.

Her conduct had been heavily criticised in a report issued by the Northern Ireland Audit Office in September last year.

The Audit Office probe was also scathing in its assessment of oversight from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) for a body formed in 1997 to support major sports and music events.

It identified failures in the risk management process and in dealing with a whistleblower’s complaints.

Outside court the solicitors for two of the ex-board members hit out at the action being taken against them.

Michael Wilson, whose client Thomas Alan Clarke is a former chief executive of the Tourist Board, claimed the department was targeting people who were “delivered a hospital pass” with their unpaid roles in the NI Events Company.

“There’s an inequality in bringing a civil prosecution against the directors of the company whilst there’s no sanction for civil servants whose beast this was, and who had wholly inadequate oversight,” he said.

John Gordon, lawyer for James Clarke, chief executive of the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools, added: “Our concern is that these people are basically scapegoats, because the government is deflecting from its own inadequacies and failures.

“The Audit Office report that came out was very critical of DCAL, and yet we have not seen any sanction of any officer or civil servant within DCAL as a consequence of their failures.”