NIO wanted to give lump sum to war hero Forum chairman due to job’s stress prior to 1998 Agreement, declassified file shows

The NIO worked to secure a lump sum payment for the chairman of the Forum talks which preceded the 1998 Belfast Agreement because of the unforeseen stress of the job, a declassified file reveals.

Tuesday, 29th December 2020, 11:08 am
Sir John Gorman, front, pictured with members of the Forum

John Gorman, a second world war hero to whom there is a substantial granite memorial in Normandy and a prominent Catholic unionist, had been elected to the Northern Ireland Forum for Political Dialogue as an Ulster Unionist in 1996.

The secretary of state Sir Patrick Mayhew had appointed Mr Gorman as the temporary chairman of the Forum but the parties had been unable to agree on electing a chairman as the first item of Forum business, meaning that Mr Gorman remained in post for a year — at which point he was formally elected to the position on a permanent basis.

Mr Gorman, who in 1998 was knighted to become Sir John, later approached the NIO to ask that he be compensated for what became a significant – but unpaid – role, prompting substantial correspondence within the NIO.

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On December 23, 1997, Mr R Jones in the NIO’s Financial Services Division wrote to the Treasury to propose an ex-gratia payment to Mr Gorman “in recognition of the onerous and stressful nature of his duties”.

He said that when the secretary of state appointed Mr Gorman as a temporary chairman, “this was not intended to be a paid position” and the legislation which established the Forum make no provision for him to be paid.

The memo said: “Until recently he was content to claim the loss of earnings allowance available to all members of the Forum (£100 a day before tax) but has now requested that we consider some recompense beyond this allowance”.

The NIO said it was “considering the request sympathetically” because Mr Gorman “has regularly had to preside over discussions which were ill-tempered, fractious and abusive. His application of the rules of proceedings has attracted a degree of acrimony from the membership directed personally at himself. Notwithstanding these stresses and strains Mr Gorman continues to steer the Forum from the chair.”

The NIO proposed “a modest sum of £10,000 (£5,000 now for the first year of his chairmanship and £5,000 for the second year).”

The NIO argued that this was legally defensible because “the extent, nature and stress of the work only became apparent after the Forum was in operation and was not, regrettable, foreseen when the Act was drafted, hence the absence of any specific provision to reflect the chairman’s particular contribution”.

However, that proposal for a payment of £5-10,000 (double that in today’s money) was considerably smaller than some of the sums being discussed internally.

The file also contains a sharp December 11, 1997 memo to Mr Jones from, the Forum secretary, Nigel Carson. However, whatever Mr Carson is replying to is not in the file, making it difficult to understand.

He told Mr Jones: “Much of what you have now included under legal advice is not actually what the legal advice says but is a rehearsal of the arguments for and against the implications of the advice. My own view is that it is better to set out the legal advice clearly and then show separately the difficulties or arguments which flow from that advice.

“As now drafted you are in danger of misleading Treasury as to precisely the nature of the advice you have received.”

He went on: “Secondly...you say that the legal advice ‘makes clear that we could not make such a payment exclusively to the chairman without the threat of legal challenge’.

“I don’t think this is correct. There is nothing in the legal advice that I can see that makes this clear though it is a reasonable conclusion; but it is our conclusion rather than HOLAB’s.”

David Lavery in the central secretariat set out the issue in a September 5, 1997 memo to the head of the civil service, Sir David Fell after Mr Gorman had written to Sir David to ask him to consider paying him a salary for his role.

He said: “Mr Gorman’s request appears to have been prompted by his belief that his pension is not commensurate with 21 years of public service; ie 15 years with the RUC and six years with the NIHE. His total pension amounts to £18,000 comprised of £15,000 arising from employment as chief of security with BOAC and its successor British Airways, plus £3,000 as vice-chairman and chief executive of NIHE.

“He also received a single payment of £6,000 on his retirement from NIHE arranged by Chris Patten. Mr Gorman feels particularly aggrieved that his pension was not transferred when he moved from the RUC to BOAC as he was given assurances that this would be granted.”

Mr Lavery said “it would not be appropriate to skew our assessment due to any sympathy we might have for any deficiencies in Mr Gorman’s pension situation”.

However, he said that he had seen at first hand what Mr Gorman had faced and suggested a one-off payment of either £16,271 or £24,328, depending on which civil service grade was used as a comparator.

That would have been on top of Mr Gorman’s estimated total remuneration of almost £20,000 for being a member of the Forum.

It is not clear from the file whether the payment was ever made.

Sir John died in 2014 at the age of 91.

MORE FROM THE DECLASSIFEID FILES:

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