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Irish government accused of 'straight to London' attitude as Northern Irish firms fail to win £100,000-plus contracts
The Northern Irish Assembly has outraged lawyers in the province with its appointments for parliamentary bill drafting. No local Northern Irish law firms are on the panel and only one of the appointees, KLegal member McGrigor Donald, has an office in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Assembly Commission put out to tender the provision of a bill drafting service for public and private bills for the assembly. The estimated value of the contract is unknown, but it is certainly over £100,000 and most of the top Northern Irish firms claim they would have been interested in the work. An alleged 'straight to London' attitude on the part of Irish government officials is a major bone of contention with local lawyers, and their exclusion from this appointment by the province's own assembly is likely to exacerbate the situation further. A spokesperson from the Law Society of Northern Ireland said: "We'll be investigating what happened. There's general disquiet about work in the province being awarded to firms outside it." The Lawyer also understands that several firms have been considering a joint letter to the government on civil service attitudes to procurement. Today (15 April), the province's Law Society will write in protest to the asembly. However, the work was put out to full public tender, and according to the Government Procurement Agency was widely advertised. The adverts went not just into the Official Journal of the European Communities, but also Northern Irish papers, including The Belfast Telegraph and The Irish News. Despite the public tender process, no applications were received from Northern Irish lawyers. Four of the province's top firms claim they would have applied had they been aware of the tender process. One partner told The Lawyer: "Some of the local firms should have been approached when it became obvious that there were no local applications." A source close to the assembly conceded that more should have been done to raise awareness about the appointments. One government official close to the tender process told The Lawyer that local Northern Irish firms lacked parliamentary drafting expertise. However, a local partner claimed: "Amending legislation will be a problem for the firms who aren't familiar with Northern Irish law. Nobody has experience with the assembly because it's a new body, and there's certainly the skill in four or five local firms to do this work." Six firms tendered for the work and four were appointed. McGrigors, Westminster-based Bircham Dyson Bell, Winkworth and Irish sole practitioner Margaret O'Driscoll were given the work. Although McGrigors' appointment is not popular with local firms, it is a coup for the KLegal member, which broke into the Northern Irish market two years ago and is already well established for government and commercial work.