26 September 2023

NORTHERN IRELAND: Roles in bungled scheme to be probed

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The reinstated Northern Ireland Government has announced a revised Code of Conduct for Ministers and an independent Public Service Disciplinary Panel in the wake of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) inquiry.

The range of measures were announced by Minister for Finance, Conor Murphy (pictured) in a bid to address issues highlighted by the RHI report.

The inquiry found a multiplicity of mistakes across Government caused the green energy scandal which led to the Government’s three-year collapse.

According to the Department of Finance, the new Ministerial code and guidance aimed to strengthen the requirements on declaring interests and avoiding conflicts of interest.

It made clear that Ministers were responsible for the management, conduct and discipline of their special advisers.

The independent disciplinary panel would consider the role of Public Servants involved in the RHI scheme and whether their actions met professional standards.

The panel members are June Milligan, a former head of Department at the UK Government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Niamh O’Donoghue, a former top-level Public Servant, and Jim Barron, a former senior Public Servant in the UK Cabinet Office.

Based on their advice, an internal panel of three Northern Ireland Permanent Secretaries who were not involved in RHI scheme would then decide on potential further action, hold disciplinary hearings and take decisions on disciplinary outcomes.

Any matters relating to staff at Permanent Secretary level and above would be passed to the Cabinet Secretary to consider.

Staff would be able to appeal the internal panel’s decisions.

The Department of Finance would also consult with trade unions and the Civil Service Commission on proposed changes to the Northern Ireland Civil Service Code of Ethics.

Belfast, 20 March 2020

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