Belfast Telegraph

Draft law to tackle RHI flaws to be tabled

It would create a specific criminal offence for a minister or special adviser to communicate confidential government information to a third party.

A draft law tackling many of the flaws in government in Northern Ireland uncovered during the RHI inquiry is to be tabled by TUV leader Jim Allister (Liam McBurney/PA).
A draft law tackling many of the flaws in government in Northern Ireland uncovered during the RHI inquiry is to be tabled by TUV leader Jim Allister (Liam McBurney/PA).

By Michael McHugh, PA

A draft law to tackle many of the flaws in government in Northern Ireland uncovered during the RHI inquiry is to be tabled.

It would create a specific criminal offence for a minister or special adviser to communicate confidential government information to a third party, proposer Jim Allister said.

The bill would reduce the number of special advisers in the Executive Office from eight to four and impose a cap on their pay.

It would also make plain that the appointing minister is “accountable and responsible” for their actions.

We keep hearing platitudes about accountability and transparency, I am going to throw down the gauntlet Jim Allister

Mr Allister, the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) leader, said: “I am throwing the gauntlet down to them. Are you for transparency and proper record keeping, bringing things under control, or is it so much talk?”

His proposals would ensure the activities and meetings of ministers and special advisers were adequately recorded within the Civil Service.

It would make it a criminal offence for any minister, civil servant or adviser to use personal accounts for emails involving government business.

Mr Allister said: “I feel it would make for better government and more accountable government.

“We keep hearing platitudes about accountability and transparency, I am going to throw down the gauntlet and say if you are, why would you shy away from putting any of this in law?

“It has to be law rather than some code which can be ducked and dived over.

“I hope it will be seen in a positive and constructive light.”

It would be tempting to let this place wallow about in its own mess but I think it would give some direction where direction is needed Jim Allister

The agreement that led to the restoration of powersharing included improvements in transparency and accountability and in how civil servants, ministers and special advisers conduct themselves.

Mr Allister said: “It would be tempting to let this place wallow about in its own mess, but I think it would give some direction where direction is needed.

“If it is not a new approach, if it is still the same old carve-up between the two big parties… it will be a litmus test.”

The RHI inquiry probed many of the failings in the DUP’s handling of the flawed green energy scheme, and a series of claims about the conduct of special advisers.

Lack of record keeping was an important issue during the inquiry.

The head of the Civil Service, David Sterling, said some meetings were not minuted in case details were requested under the Freedom of Information Act.

PA

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