Page last updated at 17:50 GMT, Wednesday, 25 April 2012 18:50 UK

Public Accounts Committee

The head of the organisation responsible for regenerating Londonderry was questioned by a Stormont committee regarding the "blatant disregard" of rules on finance, on 25 April 2012.

Aideen McGinley, chief executive of ILEX, was appearing before the Public Accounts Committee following the publication of an Audit Office report that showed the organisation had spent more than £400,000 without proper government approval.

A consultancy contract of £75,000 for the Peace Bridge project was extended to £478,000.

Ms McGinley conceded that, "we should have let the department know".

She told committee members that lessons had been learned and that in future ILEX would be "certain of what we want before we go to tender".

Mitchel McLaughlin of Sinn Fein observed that Ms McGinley was a former permanent secretary at the departments of culture and employment and learning.

He asked whether committee members were to believe that she was unaware of the rules regarding reporting back to government;

"Or are you expecting us to to accept that you did, in fact, blatantly disregard rules which you were completely and absolutely familiar with?"

The committee also questioned Ms McGinley about financial problems that arose when Derry was awarded the title of UK City of Culture.

Once again, Ms McGinley accepted responsibility.

"I am the designated accounting officer, the buck stops here," she said.

Earlier in the meeting, senior civil servants were questioned about the destruction of documents concerning the sale of Malone Road army barracks in Belfast in 2003.

The site was bought for £3.8m, less than the initial valuation.

The developer who purchased it sold the site on the same day, and it was subsequently used for the building of apartments.

Noel Lavery of OFMDFM said he understood there was some connection between the initial buyer of the site and the party it was sold on to.

Adrian McQuillan of the DUP put it to Mr Lavery that the site had been "flipped on".

Mr Lavery said that "clearly there would be a concern" if they had not achieved best value from the sale.

Mitchel McLaughlin suggested that "somebody else got better value than the public purse", whilst the UUP's Michael Copeland observed that "somebody bought this and apparently flipped it in less than a day".

It emerged during the questioning that documents relating to the sale had been destroyed.

This occurred during an office move and was in line with civil service regulations.

Committee chairperson Paul Maskey of Sinn Fein wanted to know why the documents relating to the sale were destroyed in 2010, after the Audit Office had begun its investigation in 2009.

David Ross of Land and Property Services accepted that "it does seem strange".

"It certainly smells as if there is something wrong," Mr Maskey commented.

Noel Lavery said he was unaware of the timescale of the destruction of the documents in terms of the Audit Office investigation.

Public Accounts Committee membership


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