Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Monica McWilliams, M.I.I. (Missing In Inaction)?

Owen Polley, Comment is Free on December 3rd:
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) was established under the Belfast agreement to advise on the scope for implementing a bill of rights specific to the province. After a process that lasted more than 10 years, and cost millions of pounds of taxpayers' money, a government consultation has dispensed with most of the recommendations assembled by the commission.
Given her past form, the response from Monica McWilliams, the Full-Time Chief Commissioner for the NIHRC, was strangely muted:
The Human Rights Commission welcomes this consultation on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. Following the advice submitted by the Commission to the Northern Ireland Office last December, we will now carefully consider the Government’s proposals before issuing a full response in due course
The writing on the wall every sane observers of this fiasco had seen on the day of publication of the recommendations was finally being read and comprehended by Ms McW?

A comment from the related Slugger O'Toole thread:
That’s not the surprising thing though, what is amazing is the total and hugely welcome absence of Monica Mc Williams from the airwaves over the past few days. Unless you happen to know that our hugely over-paid (by the British tax payer) but oh-so-independent human rights commissar has been away all week in East Timor working free of charge for the Irish Government. Just like she spent a good part of October in Uganda, working free of charge for the Irish Government.
In other words, her response was the equivalent to that on a telephone answering machine?:
"Thank you for calling Monica. She is not in the country at the moment. As soon as she is back she'll give you another half-baked bombastic justification for the millions of UK taxpayers' money wasted on this nonsense"
Having a bit of time spare I thought I'd contact the NIHRC direct to clear up any possible misunderstandings on this; after all, if you can't rely on a Human Rights' Commission for 100% transparency who exactly can you rely on?

Three unanswered emails, one unanswered voice mail message and a """ burr...."" replaced receiver later, the answer to my last question would appear to be "no one".

So, what information do we already have online connected with this?

1. According to the NIHRC, Ms McWilliams personally hasn't done anything since April.
2. According to the NIHRC, the NIHRC didn't do anything in October.
3. According to the Republic's Department of Foreign Affairs, Ms McWilliams was indeed in Uganda in October, dispensing advice will-nilly and waxing lyrical about the help she's received from the ROI. Oh yeah, and she did also mention the government and the taxpayers who pay her wages (ie the UK's) but very, very grudgingly.
4. Ms McWilliams is employed as a Chief Commissioner by the NIO on a full time(my emphasis) basis for which a salary of £69,520 per annum is paid.
5. Up until 2006, the NIHRC received over £6m of public funding. In the tax year 2007-08, a further 1.59 million was paid out.
6. Nothing whatsover about East Timor or Ms McWilliams activities on the NIHRC or the ROI's DFA websites for the last ten days.

The conclusions?

a)It is a mighty coincidence that the month when it was alleged Ms McWilliams worked gratis for the ROI's government is also a blank month in the NIHRC's activity files (points 2 and 3).

b) Why the silence from Ms McWilliams over the last week or so in the face of the most direct challenge yet to her project? Was she out of the country on business on behalf of the ROI as alleged?

c) What is her, and more importantly the NIO's definition, of "full-time"? Does that definition involve the UK taxpayer funding her trips abroad on behalf of the ROI's government to places such as Uganda and possibly East Timor?

d) Why is a human rights' organisation which has received at least 8 million pounds worth of UK taxpayers' money, so reluctant to deal with a UK taxpayer when they ask perfectly legitimate questions? Simply a case of rank incompetence, an institutionalised fear of transparency...or some other reason?

My own instinct on this is that there is definitely a story here, but as a mere blogger I simply have neither the time resources nor the PR clout to dig everything that's required out. Any professional journos that happen to be reading hopefully can do a better job.


Alan in Belfast said...

I'm pretty sure I walked past her on my way down to the Bagel Bagel opposite St Anne's Cathedral at lunchtime today ... if I'd known, I could have stopped her and asked!

O'Neill said...

Did she have a tan?! Would you get a tan in E Timor this time of the year would be agood follow-up!

The original information was that she was away the week that Woodward gave the response to the recommendations which, at the very least, wouldn't have been a very professional thing to do. Also I was a bit peed off with the complete lack of response from either email or phone calls. Why bother putting up a "Contact Us" if they'd rather you didn't?

notintimor said...

A new version of the NIHRC Register of Interests is now posted up on its website, with no mention of any work paid or otherwise anywhere for the Irish Government, so Monica is obviously in the clear.