Belfast Telegraph

Additional powers for civil servants 'sad day for democracy' in Northern Ireland says Eastwood

By Gareth Cross

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has taken aim at Secretary of State Karen Bradley over the lack of progress in talks to restore power-sharing at Stormont.

Mr Eastwood said that the pace at which the Northern Ireland Secretary was moving to restore devolution was "nothing short of embarrassing".

The Foyle MLA was speaking on Tuesday as the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) published its guidance for departmental decision-making in the absence of a power-sharing Executive.

The guidance lays out how Northern Ireland's civil servants should make decisions in the absence of Ministers.

It comes after Mrs Bradley's Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions Act was given approval by Parliament.

The guidance document says that senior officers in NI departments can exercise the functions of the department "if the officer is satisfied that it is in the public interest to exercise the function".

Civil servants are expected to consider if their decisions follow the priorities of the former Executive and Ministers unless there has been a significant change to the situation.

They are expected to act in situations which could have significant financial effects or have serious detrimental effects on the public interest, public health and public safety.

The Permanent Secretaries of the departments will remain responsible for the decisions taken by the senior officers.

Departments will also be expected to maintain records on decisions that have been taken in the absence of Ministers.

Mr Eastwood said that the publishing of the guidance marked a "sad day for democracy".

“No one could argue that necessary steps must be taken to ensure the delivery of basic public services during this prolonged period of political deadlock. However, the SDLP will not settle for this sticking plaster approach and neither should the public," the SDLP leader said.

“Karen Bradley must not use this guidance as a cloak to hide behind. As Secretary of State it is her job to reconvene an open, inclusive and transparent talks process to ensure the reinstatement of power-sharing as quickly as possible."

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