Politicians across the spectrum across Northern Ireland have full faith in the competence of senior civil servant Sue Grey, who investigates alleged violations of COVID restrictions on Downing Street.
DLP legislator Matthew O’Toole knows Gray from his time at Stormont and his years working at Number 10. “I have a lot of time for Sue,” he says. “She’s straightforward and accessible.
“He has integrity, and I’ve always found him to be a serious, outspoken colleague. I first worked with him when I was a civil servant in Downing Street. I knew him relatively well. Thankfully, I didn’t know him at any point.” But didn’t cross.
O’Toole became reacquainted with Gray when he was permanent secretary in Conor Murphy’s finance department, and he sat on the finance committee.
“I didn’t always agree with her and her executives, but she was always highly professional and relatively open,” he says.
Yet the SDLP legislator finds it “bizarre” that Gray – who returned to Whitehall last spring to work with Michael Gove to maintain the union – was asked to lead an investigation into suspected parties on Downing Street during the lockdown. has been appointed for.
“I have no doubt that she will do a strong job, but she is in a dire state,” he says. “He is a serving civil servant who is being asked to decide on a serving prime minister just as he is a High Court judge leading a public inquiry.” , This is an almost impossible task.
“In other circumstances, I’d say it was fair enough to investigate her officers, but that’s a pretty serious issue. Hear about Jim Shannon’s emotional contribution to the House of Commons just about his mother-in-law dying alone. And you Understand how big it is.
“It’s too much for a civil servant to investigate. It’s a reflection not on Sue but on Boris Johnson. Her line on all the questions she faces is, ‘There’s an inquiry. Sue Gray will clear everything up.’ ‘.”
O’Toole is shocked by the revelation that Martin Reynolds, the prime minister’s principal private secretary, sent an email to Number 10 employees, inviting them to a ‘bring your own wine’ garden party.
There’s more to a drink culture than here in Westminster, he says. “The fact that Stormont is far from everywhere is partly part of the reason. Even if people are at the reception in the building, they won’t drink because they are driving. In Westminster, civil servants work with co-workers. But the event that was held – ‘Let’s get drunk in the garden during a pandemic’ – is remarkable.
“It’s weird and certainly not the normal way to do things. Maybe under Johnson it feels like the normal rules don’t apply.”
Gray (64) previously led the investigation into Theresa May’s deputy prime minister Damien Green, who was accused of inappropriate behavior towards a young female Tory worker. This led to his resignation.
Economist and SDLP member Paul Gosling says: “Given his history with Green, Boris Johnson cannot expect any favors from Sue. He overturned the former deputy prime minister and showed that he was on his ground. Ready to stand.”
Gosling points to Gray’s “interesting history”—in the 1980s, she ran The Cove pub outside Newry with her husband, Bill Conlan, a portmanteau country and western singer. “Her experience running a Borderlands pub shows she is one tough cookie,” he says.
Gray applied for the post of head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, but was unsuccessful. “She’s very friendly,” says Gosling, “but she ruffled the feathers of some senior civil servants here and many were glad she didn’t get the job.”
“The fact that he did a great job with Conor Murphy in the finance department didn’t make him even like him for the DUP.”
Former Ulster federalist leader, Steve Aiken, who is the chairman of the Finance Committee, is also influenced by Gray. He saw it as “a huge opportunity missed by neither the First nor the Deputy First Ministers to appoint the head of the civil service”.
“She is the kind of person who intimidates cabinet ministers and other senior bureaucrats for her perseverance and ability to reach the truth,” he says. I am sure she will not fall under the guise of the Prime Minister or the Conservative Party.
Chef Brian Donaldson of outcast NI, who represents those who missed out on the government’s COVID financial aid, can’t praise Gray enough. “She joined us when she didn’t have to,” he says.
“We were a new group. We weren’t just complaining – we brought her solutions as well as problems and she appreciated it. She was the gateway to positive outcomes. We got support for bed and breakfasts and it Snowball happened.
“She called me two or three times a week to see if there was a problem that needed solving. She saved businesses, families, and lives. When other departments behaved in a standard way, Sue was more likely to take risks. Once she did, the doors opened for us in the economy department.”