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Furore over press secretary job is ‘hysterical' says Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness

Martin McGuinness and Arlene Foster used royal prerogative to allow them to appoint David Gordon, it has emerged

THE first and deputy first minister have described criticism of a controversial executive appointment as "hysterical" and "an insult to victims of oppression".

The Executive Office has attracted criticism after it appointed former Nolan Show editor David Gordon as executive press secretary without advertising the newly created post.

It has emerged Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness used royal prerogative to change legislation allowing them to push the appointment through without the knowledge of other ministers.

An order was signed by the two ministers on September 8 paving the way for them to appoint Mr Gordon to the £75,400-a-year position,

The Executive Office issued a briefing note to journalists on the appointment.

The highly-unusual statement, which has been reproduced in full by this newspaper, said the appointment was political and made in line with practices in London and Dublin.

It described suggestions that the appointment had been made in secret was "stretching credibility to breaking point".

It claimed some critics had used "rhetoric about 'Stalin' or 'North Korea'" in relation to appointment, describing the comparison as "not just hysterical but an insult to victims of oppression".

"While this manufactured storm runs its course, executive ministers are getting on with the job of government, determined to pursue policies that make a real difference.

"In a few weeks, David Gordon will be at his new desk helping us in that task. It is extremely useful that he has been given an early insight into the vacuousness and double standards on opposition benches."

It was unclear whether Mr Gordon himself had any hand in making the 10-point statement.

Alliance MLA Naomi Long has described his appointment as "scandalous".

"As recently as Thursday I called for fuller openness and transparency in public appointments to counter claims of cronyism," she said.

"Now it has been revealed that the first and deputy first ministers have used authority delegated from the Queen to secretly change the law in order to make this appointment without any scrutiny from MLAs, Civil Service Commissioners or the Commissioner for Public Appointments. This is nothing short of scandalous."

TUV leader Jim Allister described the use or prerogative powers by the ministers as "a brazen abuse of power".

"Section 23(3) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 bestows the royal prerogative powers in respect of the NI Civil Service on the first ministers, but to then purport to use those powers to amend legislation to gift themselves a power of appointment not anticipated in that legislation, seems to me to be an abuse of power and process," he added.

David Gordon (51) was formerly political editor at the Belfast Telegraph.

His appointment to Stormont Castle came after former BBC journalist Stephen Grimason retired from his job as the executive's director of communications.

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