Just two days after Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness pledged that Stormont will “communicate effectively”, their department took an inordinately long time to respond to basic questions about the appointment of their press secretary.
On Tuesday, the first minister and deputy first minister unveiled Nolan Show editor David Gordon as their senior spokesman.
Mr Gordon’s appointment has been seen as a coup for the Executive – both because of his abilities and because it removes from journalism one of Stormont’s sharpest critics.
But the revelation that the post wasn’t advertised – something which the Executive says was within the law – has led to criticism from Opposition parties.
The News Letter asked a series of questions to The Executive Office (TEO) on Wednesday but almost two hours after our deadline last night they finally released a statement. Among the questions was a request for clarification as to whether Mr Gordon is classed as a special adviser and for a copy of the Order under which he was appointed.
Mr Gordon is not yet in post at Stormont Castle, so is not responsible for the delay in responding to the questions. He remains employed by the BBC, but the corporation has made clear that he is no longer involved in editorial duties at Broadcasting House.
The TEO’s Sinn Fein junior minister, Megan Fearon, released a statement through her party, claiming that “the opposition parties are clearly unnerved” by the move and highlighted that the UUP had “constantly called for a more joined up approach by the Executive”, something of which she said Mr Gordon’s appointment was evidence.
In a personal dig at the UUP leader, she suggested that the appointment may be “bringing back bad memories of poor radio performances for the UUP leader”.
The TUV leader, Jim Allister, has written to the Public Appointments Commissioner, Judena Leslie, asking her to investigate the appointment.
Mr Allister asked whether she had given prior authorisation for the appointment and asked her to launch an inquiry because there is “already public disquiet about the process followed in the appointment [and] I believe it is incumbent upon you to investigate in order to preserve public confidence in your role”.
A spokesperson for The Executive Office said: “Mr Gordon is appointed in accordance with the Civil Service Commissioners (Amendment) Order (Northern Ireland) as a person providing specialist advice. Mr Gordon is subject to many of the terms and conditions that normal civil servants are subject to, however he is not a ninth Spad.
“Mr Chris McNabb is head of operations for the Executive Information Service and Mr Gordon will work in parallel with the Executive Information Service.”