Belfast Telegraph

Civil service 'agreed to Press post'

By Noel McAdam

The outgoing head of the civil service Sir Malcolm McKibbin gave the go-ahead to use Royal Prerogative powers to appoint new Executive spin doctor David Gordon, Arlene Foster has revealed.

But the First Minister also disclosed that Attorney General John Larkin was not consulted about the position - and insisted the appointment by her and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was entirely legal.

Questioned over the decision in the Assembly, she said: "I suppose that we could have asked the Attorney General for his opinion."

Responding to TUV leader Jim Allister, she went on: "At the time, we thought that we would ask the head of the Civil Service whether we could use the power.

"He checked with his legal advisers and came back with the answer that it was available for us to use."

The First and Deputy First Ministers used the special Royal Prerogative powers to ensure that they could appoint the 51-year-old former editor of the BBC Stephen Nolan show as press secretary without advertising the post.

Replying to Ulster Unionist Jo-Anne Dobson, Mrs Foster said Mr Gordon's job would include working "right across government, so that we have a cohesive approach to the media and to ensure that, instead of the sometimes glib and trite understanding of what is going on up here, there is a more in-depth understanding of the challenges that face the Executive and how we intend to deal with them."

She added: "Thus far, no-one has taken me to court for the use of the Royal Prerogative. This is not the first time that the Royal Prerogative power has been used; it is the fourth time since devolution returned to Northern Ireland. The first time, it was used was by the then First Minister, David Trimble, and Deputy First Minister, Seamus Mallon."

The exchanges came after the Belfast Telegraph revealed letters between Mrs Foster and Mr McGuinness and the Assembly committee which monitors their office over the appointment.

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