Queen’s University ‘suspends’ awarding honorary degree to scandalous Stormont after questions from Belfast Telegraph

Queen’s University has ‘suspended’ an honorary degree from a man implicated in the Stormont scandal after the Belfast Telegraph asked questions about the decision.

Last week, we were contacted by a person expressing concern about the university’s decision to praise former Phoenix Natural Gas chief executive Peter Dixon.

Twelve years ago, Mr Dixon played a key role in the NI Water scandal, which led to the only demotion to the post of Permanent Secretary in the history of the Northern Ireland civil service.

Mr. Dixon was one of three members of an “independent review team” set up by Paul Priestley, then Permanent Secretary of the Department of Regional Development (now the Department of Infrastructure), to investigate alleged irregularities in the way NI Water awards contracts.

Unlike the other members of the team, Mr. Dixon did not charge for his work, and it was alleged that he was friends with NI Water CEO Lawrence McKenzie – a potential conflict of interest due to the rupture between Mr. McKenzie. and many of his reigns.

The directors of NI Water were fired in connection with the investigation, which involved Mr. Dixon, but subsequent evidence showed that the Stormont Accounts Committee (PAC) had raised serious questions about how the review team was operating.

When these issues were raised by three MLAs – Patsy McGlone, John Dallat and Don Purvis – at the GAC hearings, Mr. Dixon wrote a furious letter to the committee in which he said: “I deeply resent the shameful interrogation line of John Dallat MLA, Patsy McGlone MLA and Dawn Purvis MLA who tried to imply that there was an abusive relationship between Lawrence Mackenzie and me.”

He said he was “shocked and upset” by what was said and added, “I am very outraged by the interrogation at the GAC by the same three MLAs who tried to question the professionalism, ethics and integrity of IRT members. It was nothing short of a disgrace.”

Mr. Dixon directly threatened the MLAs, who were doing their job, telling them, “In conclusion, rest assured that if I can prove that the trial is open to me, on a purely personal basis, I will not hesitate in my actions. accepting them.”

As it happens, Mr. Dixon’s legal threats have been lukewarm because the MLA has the privilege of speaking in the Assembly. It was later revealed that Mr. Priestley had prepared a letter for Mr. Dixon to mail.

The Committee stated: “The fact that Mr. Priestley – the main witness and the man who was to set an example for many government officials under his leadership – played a role in the preparation of this letter was completely disgraceful.”

Mr. Priestley was subsequently demoted, although he appeared to have suffered no financial loss, and Mr. Dickson’s then chairman at Phoenix, Sir Gerry Loughran, wrote an apology letter to the committee, stating that “perfectly legitimate questions were being asked by members of the GAC… it was the right line.” interrogation by the commission.

He said Mr. Dixon was “offended” by the interrogation but wanted to withdraw his letter of complaint.

When asked why Mr. Dixon was so honored and whether he or anyone associated with him has donated to Queen’s, the university responded: “Peter Dixon has been nominated for an honorary degree for services to business, education and philanthropy. .

“The Honorary Degrees Committee recommended Mr. Dixon’s nomination for Senate confirmation, and it was ratified in March 2020.

“Due to personal circumstances that were discussed between the university and Mr. Dixon last week, it has been decided to suspend the award of the honorary degree.

“Peter Dixon has not made any personal donations to Queen’s University. Phoenix Natural Gas is an industry partner of the CASE funded heat decarbonization project and has donated to the previous Riddel Hall campaign.”

Mr. McGlone, one of those whom Mr. Dickson criticized in his letter for doing his job, said: “I thought that Queen’s University thought and researched long and hard to make sure that those who receive honorary doctorates degree, fully deserve such a title.

“As a former PAC member who, along with other colleagues, including my late colleague John Dallat, was present at the scrutiny of NI Water, I would have thought that someone who plotted to undermine the PAC’s controls and its democratic accountability would not did not meet those criteria.

Phoenix Natural Gas declined to say how much money it gave Queen’s, calling the information “commercially sensitive.” However, it states that it “collaborated with Queen’s University on two specific initiatives over a period spanning more than 20 years. While there has been limited engagement with Queen’s University, both initiatives have been part of a much broader program of responsible business conduct focused on core business objectives.”

It states that he “participated in a recently published CASE-funded study whose details help advance decarbonization solutions for key sectors of the NI economy. Phoenix were also one of the many local organizations that worked with Queen’s University on the previous Riddel Hall campaign.”

Mr. Dixon was invited to comment, but at the time of press release, there was no response.