A Claudy businessman sacked as a director of Northern Ireland Water three years ago has won a rare public apology from a Stormont department.
Declan Gormley, who was fired by Sinn Fein minister Conor Murphy in 2010, will now have all his legal bills paid for by the Department of Regional Development (DRD).
In December Mr Gormley won £80,000 from Sinn Fein — and left the party with a total legal bill estimated at £400,000 — after a jury unanimously found that the party had libelled him in two press releases about his dismissal.
He alleged abuse of public office by Mr Murphy, the DRD, former DRD permanent secretary Paul Priestly and three other civil servants.
When he announced the legal action in 2011, Mr Gormley said that he was not interested in making money from the case and if he won he would only seek to recoup his legal costs and pledged to donate any compensation to charity.
However, the department refused to apologise and instructed taxpayer-funded lawyers to defend the case. And, despite the department changing from Sinn Fein to Ulster Unionist hands almost two years ago, Mr Murphy’s successor, Danny Kennedy, continued to defend the case despite several attempts by Mr Gormley to seek mediation.
Mr Kennedy today confirmed that he had agreed to apologise and that Mr Gormley had accepted the apology.
The minister said: “Mr Gormley had taken his case as a result of the decision to dismiss him from the position of non-executive director with NI Water in March 2010 following the publication of a report by an Independent Review Team. At that time Conor Murphy, MP was Minister for Regional Development.
“Following the recent High Court Case in which Mr Gormley was awarded damages against Sinn Fein, he had indicated that all that he wanted from the litigation against the Department and the other defendants was an apology and the legal costs incurred in the case. In light of this statement I felt duty bound to ensure that this was explored with Mr Gormley’s legal advisers.
“Following tough negotiations by both parties it was eventually possible to reach a settlement on the basis of an apology on behalf of the department and the payment of Mr Gormley’s reasonable legal costs but without payment of damages.”
“The department has now apologised to Mr Gormley and has agreed to pay his costs. Mr Gormley has accepted the apology, which is all that he wished to secure from this litigation. Accordingly the matter is now closed.”