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Monday, January 03, 2005

Storm in a teacup overflows again

So, after four months of muted controversy and a great deal of manufactured outrage on both sides, the controversy over the appointment of the new Chair of the Welsh Language Board reaches a conclusion of sorts. Dame Rennie Fritchie, the Commissioner for Public Appointments, has adjudicated on the row, concluding that there were "administrative difficulties and shortfalls" in the appointment process.

To recap, Meri Huws - a Labour Party member and former lover of Economic Development Minister Andrew Davies (as the Western Mail so coyly puts it) - was appointed Chair after going through the appointment process. "Plaid Cymru's Shadow Culture Minister Owen John Thomas, who sat on a panel that interviewed five shortlisted candidates, accused Culture Minister Alun Pugh, who also sat on the panel, of insisting on the appointment of Ms Huws, even though she received 71.5 points from the panel against 79 for another candidate. Mr Thomas also alleged that Mr Pugh had made written observations only about his favoured candidate, who was interviewed first, writing down nothing about the rest."

In her adjudication Dame Rennie cleared the Culture Minister of misconduct but concluded that he had not followed the proper procedure. She was also critical of Alun Pugh for bringing forward the announcement of Ms Huws's appointment to the week of the National Eisteddfod. However, she reserved her harshest criticism for those who had put the matter into the public domain - "I am very disappointed that highly confidential information, such as candidate names and other personal information, panel marking details, and the names of individual panel members including the Independent Assessor were released to the public via newspapers. This is a clear breach of the Code of Practice."

Despite the assertions of Owen John Thomas this report is far from a "whitewash". He is trying to save face but in doing so he is making himself look ridiculous. He is arguing about process when the issue for him is more substantive than that. He has compromised his own position of trust in pursuing the matter in the way that he has.

Although the whole row was a storm in a teacup, the bitterness surrounding it has its roots in a more fundamental disgreement. As I commented on 24 August 2004, the battle that is being fought here is over who has the moral right to oversee the Welsh Language. Many members of Plaid Cymru, "the Party of Wales", believe that it is their god-given right to determine the future of "the language", they cannot allow any other party to appropriate that role or their whole raison d'etre will disappear. To put a Labour Party member as the head of the Quango responsible is sacrilege as far as they are concerned. Is it any wonder that they are unhappy?

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