26 September 2023

NORTHERN IRELAND: Call to give PS statutory role

Start the conversation


The Institute for Government (IFG) think tank is calling for Northern Ireland’s Public Service to be put on a statutory footing to help rebuild confidence in the policymaking process.

In a report published as the Province approaches 1,000 days without a functioning Government, the IFG said any future administration should build on the role the Public Service had played over that time to give it a greater role in advising Ministers.

It said the Public Service should be given a “formal duty to serve the public interest and act as stewards of the longer term”.

“Its stated role at the moment is to support the Executive and its Ministers in delivering the commitments set out in the program for Government, but it has been too eager to please,” the IFG said.

PS employees have effectively been running Northern Ireland since the power-sharing agreement between the two main political parties broke down in January 2017.

This means it has been forced to take decisions that would usually be up to Ministers — an indefinite continuation of which has been described as unacceptable by the Head of the Public Service, David Sterling (pictured).

The IFG report argued that power-sharing must be re-established as a matter of urgency, but stressed that longer-term mechanisms were also needed to strengthen the role of the Public Service and improve evidence-based policymaking.

It suggested learning from PS employees in New Zealand, who “present themselves as advisers to Ministers” and had the authority to produce reports without Ministerial sign-off.

“It could be worth considering whether adopting those practices would both rebuild confidence in the Northern Ireland policymaking process and make it harder for Ministers to avoid difficult decisions,” the IFG said.

Belfast, 27 September 2019

Start the conversation

Be among the first to get all the Public Sector and Defence news and views that matter.

Subscribe now and receive the latest news, delivered free to your inbox.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.