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MLAs have form in clashing over names and titles

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 19/01/2016

Conundrum: Martin McGuinness
Conundrum: Martin McGuinness

Issues over names and titles clogging up in-trays at government departments is nothing new.

In 2008 the Belfast Telegraph reported how officials pondered the best way to type out Martin McGuinness's official title.

The riddle sparked a bureaucratic tangle which ultimately reached the highest echelons of the Executive and Assembly.

The debate over whether Mr McGuinness should be Deputy First Minister or deputy First Minister eventually involved 44 officials, including the head of the Civil Service, the two First Ministers, their two Junior Ministers, eight special advisors and the Speaker of the Assembly.

A Freedom of Information request about the change yielded 50 pages of memos on the subject - at a time when the ministers and their office were wrestling with the Programme for Government and the appointment of a Victims Commissioner.

The FoI release revealed one senior civil servant was concerned that officials might do "silly things" if the issue wasn't handled carefully. And it revealed that the in-depth consideration of Mr McGuinness's title spilled over into how to deal with Junior Ministers - leading to their J being dropped to the lower case as well.

The then head of the Civil Service, Nigel Hamilton, said: "I think we need to adopt a consistent approach - subject to a sensible approach."

But the capital letter remains enigmatic - even in 2016. The Office of the First and Deputy First Minister continues to use both versions of Mr McGuinness's title on its website.

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