Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Once more with less coherence | Further correspondence from Minister Mark H Durkan

In the aftermath of the hurried release of Prof Cooney’s Review of the context of the excavation of a crannog in Drumclay townland Co. Fermanagh on the route of the Cherrymount Link Road, I published a considered reply on this blog: Mud, lies and hazard tape: Reviewing The Report on the Drumclay Crannog. One of the outcomes of my piece was the formulation of a series of questions for a number of the key stakeholder organisations: Amey Plc, The Department of Regional Development, and the Northern Ireland Environment Service. It was in relation to the last one that I sent an email to Mark H Durkan, Minister at the Department of the Environment. The response I received was … less than satisfactory … I would go so far as to call it a non-reply … and I did: Drumclay Crannog & Top Men: A non-reply from Minister Mark H Durkan. My reply was to reiterate the original set of questions (and one new one) in the hope that, this time, the request would find its way to a different desk, where the occupant was capable of rational thought and had some degree of basic literacy. I had such modest hopes. On October 19 2015 I received this reply from Iain Greenway, Director, Historic Environment Division:

Our ref: TOF-1286-2015

19 October 2015
Dear Mr Chapple

Thank you for your email of 1 October 2015. The Minister has seen your email and asked me to respond.

In your email you refer to an earlier response by Mr Ian Maye, then Deputy Secretary in the Department, which you feel was an insufficient reply to your original questions of 17 July 2015. In his letter Mr Maye set out that a review of the events surrounding the excavation of the crannog at Drumclay has been completed. As you are aware, this review was led by Professor Gabriel Cooney, Chair of the Historic Monuments Council and Professor of Celtic Archaeology at University College Dublin. Professor Cooney was aided in his review by Sarah Witchell, a member of the Historic Monuments Council and qualified solicitor and legal consultant, alongside Nick Brannon, also a member of the Historic Monuments Council, a former Director of Built Heritage, and former President of the Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology. The qualifications and experience of the review panel were therefore relevant and wide-ranging.

The terms of reference for the review were set out for the panel of experts by Alex Attwood, then Minister of the Environment. The review met its terms of reference, presented its findings and identified six recommendations for further action. The six recommendations have been accepted by the Minister and work is ongoing to implement them. I can report that some of the recommendations have already been addressed and that all will be by April 2016.

As to your other queries, it is my opinion that in addressing the six recommendations we will have met the requirements of the Drumclay Review findings and have addressed the legitimate concerns you have raised. In stating this, I note that, in your recent correspondence, you "broadly agree with Prof Cooney's six recommendations". I also note your suggestion as to broadening recommendations 1-3 to include all commercial sector archaeological excavations in Northern Ireland; this is something that we are already considering. However, it is the delivery of the review recommendation action plan that is the primary focus at this time.

Finally, you mention the post-excavation process for the crannog excavation and the possible making public of what you term a 'roadmap' to completion and publication. The matter of completion and publication is something we have been carefully considering. As Mr Maye stated in his letter, this is recognised as an important work area but, as with many other government funded activities, is dependent on available resources. I anticipate that, as you request, Historic Environment Division will make our 'roadmap' available to the public in due course.

Yours sincerely

Director, Historic Environment Division

Drumclay under excavation
Cutting through the waffle, it is clear that the NIEA claim to be working on implementing Cooney’s recommendations and that they expect to have this process completed by April 2016. Further, they think that broadening Cooney’s first three recommendations (currently only referencing road schemes) to include all developer-led has some merit and that it is already under consideration by NIEA. That’s, really, as good as it gets in terms of answering actual, direct questions. Greenway appears to be unfamiliar with the usage of the word ‘roadmap’ to refer to ‘any plan or guide to show how something is arranged or can be accomplished’, twice using it within inverted commas. It hardly fills me with confidence that he then resorts to the same insipid, evasive language that I repeatedly received about when Cooney’s Report would be published. Considering the difficulty encountered in getting the DoE to release the Cooney Report, I will treat Greenway’s use of “in due course” with the degree of caution it deserves. As for publication of this exceptionally important site, Greenway considers it ‘an important work area’ but is ‘dependent on available resources’ … I don’t know about of you, dear reader, but I’m hardly overcome with any sense that this is a priority for Greenway or the NIEA: ‘Yeah … if we get some spare cash, we’ll probably do something about it, but don’t hold your breath!’

Greenway is also of the opinion that the NIEA’s implementation of Cooney’s six recommendations will address “the legitimate concerns you have raised” … well, that’s lovely and I’m really happy for them, but it doesn’t actually answer the actual questions … actually ... Considering that several of the questions are specifically noted as not being addressed by Prof Cooney’s report, the assertion that they will automatically be addressed by his recommendations seems unlikely. I have nothing but respect for Prof Cooney’s abilities, but claiming that issues he does not address or identify will be miraculously cured by recommendations not intended to address them may be filed under “eloquent and insincere rhetoric.”

While I’m loath to admit it, the problem may be one of my own making. I realise that my writing style can be somewhat convoluted and demanding, and not always conducive to understanding and simple clarity. Hush! Hush, dear reader! I know you will disagree, but it is true. I have run my ‘enlarged’ set of questions through MSWord’s spelling and grammar checker and find that they have a Flesch Reading Ease score of 29.9, indicating that it is ‘best understood by university graduates’ and are on the borderline between Difficult and Very Confusing. With a mind to simplifying the questions, I’ve attempted to rewrite them in the following manner:

1) John O’Keeffe has made comments in print and in person that there were ‘many inaccuracies’ in the reporting of the events around this situation. These have now been shown to be false and baseless. Will you please instruct him to issue a full apology to myself and the others involved in this campaign?

2) Have you or will you issue guidance on how to ensure that NIEA are represented by suitably senior/qualified people at meetings with other agencies, Departments, and companies?

3) Will you be organising an investigation into John O’Keeffe and his Senior Inspectors failure of leadership and appropriate communication?

4) Will you explain the circumstances around the Prof Cooney’s allegation of unlicensed trenching?

5) Who met with Declan Hurl to discuss these allegations and to who were the minutes of these meetings passed for action?

6) Will you explain why NIEA did not seek to prosecute anyone for this alleged of unlicensed trenching?

7) Who made the decision not to prosecute?

8) Why was this decision not challenged by NIEA personnel?

9) Can you explain whether the Senior Inspectors were deliberately hiding their actions from John O’Keeffe, or were they working without sufficient support and oversight from their manager?

10) Will the staff involved in this case be sent on training and receive mentoring to improve their future performance?

11) If this does not succeed, will you consider redeploying the individuals to less demanding roles or removing them from the organisation?

12) Will you make a commitment to disciplining NIEA members who have acted improperly?

13) As John O’Keeffe’s appears to have been fed incomplete or false information by Senior Inspector Maybelline Gormley do you not have cause to question her competency and ability?

14) Will you extend Prof Cooney’s recommendations 1-3 to cover all commercial sector excavations in Northern Ireland? [Partially answered, but I don’t want it to disappear off the list!]

15) Should NIEA directly consider whether Declan Hurl is allowed to hold an excavation license again?

16) Will you allocate increased funding to the Northern Ireland Sites and Monuments Record?

17) Would investing in the NISMR be more expensive than another Drumclay excavation?

18) Will you issue guidance on whether engineering firms should supply their own archaeological professionals, or whether there should be a degree of separation between the two groups?

19) Will you issue a statement to appropriately acknowledge the vital actions of the Cherrymount Crannog Crisis group and the various stakeholders of the advocacy movement in bringing this case to a successful conclusion?

20) Do you actually have a plan to conserve and publish the Drumclay material?

21) Will you make this plan public? [Not just Greenway’s “in due course”]

22) Will you make the conservation, analysis, and publication of the Drumclay material a priority for the NIEA?

I have striven to make the questions more direct to facilitate clarity. The questions now have a Flesch Reading Ease of 42.4, still ‘Difficult’ but quite an improvement. It’s hardly the stuff of XKCD’s Up Goer Five, but it is a start. Hopefully the questions are now sufficiently clear that they can be directly answered by either the Minister or his chosen subaltern. With this in mind, I have written yet again to Minister Mark H. Durkan:

Your ref: TOF-1286-2015
Dear Minister Durkan,
Thank you so much for Iain Greenway’s October 19 reply to my second attempt to get a series of clear and concise answers to several questions arising from Prof Cooney’s report into the Drumclay fiasco. While Mr Greenway’s reply is strong on restating the obvious and well-known, he is less successful at answering any of the questions that have been asked of you.

To facilitate clearer communication, I have recast the original request as a leaner, cleaner set of 22 individual questions. While Mr Greenway’s response partially answers Question 14 (on the expansion of Prof Cooney’s Recommendations 1-3 to cover all development-led archaeological excavations), and touches on Questions 20 and 21 (the Department’s plan to conserve and publish the material from the site - though it is by no means certain that he understands the terminology used), his bland assertion that the implementation of Prof Cooney’s Recommendations will answer all my other queries is patently ridiculous and blatantly disingenuous. While I appreciate that this is given as his opinion, I cannot stress enough that I am seeking direct, concrete answers, not opinions.

Thus, it is in hope that – on the third time of asking – you can find someone on your staff with the necessary intellectual acuity to answer these questions without prevarication and dissembling, that I submit them to you once again.


Robert M Chapple

PS – my analysis of Greenway’s letter and a fuller explanation of my reasoning can be found on my blog [here]

Such answers as I shall receive will be posted to this blog in due course …


The first part of the title of this post comes from Mongol Horde's classic track Casual Threats From Weekend Hardmen. But, of course, you knew that …

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