Belfast Telegraph

Gifts received by Northern Ireland civil servants in last year revealed by Stormont

Head of the NI Civil Service David Sterling
Head of the NI Civil Service David Sterling
Senior official Katrina Godfrey

By Mairead Holland

Rugby match tickets, teddy bears, ties, amber cufflinks and a £250 ornament of a horse are among the gifts senior Stormont civil servants have received in the past year.

The details are included in a register of gifts and hospitality published by The Executive Office department.

The head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, David Sterling, received the most offers - more than 170 in the 12 months to March 2019 - and while he declined more than two-thirds, he accepted others totalling almost £2,200 in value.

Among those he agreed to were four tickets, worth £60 each, for the England v Ireland rugby match and the Ireland v New Zealand rugby match; an invitation to the 147th Golf Open by Tourism NI, worth £100; and refreshments at BBC Proms in the Park at £20 per two guests.

The ornament of a horse was a gift from the Chinese Consulate for speaking at the Regional Leaders Summit in China.

Other 'acceptances' included invitations to dinners and receptions.

Invitations that he declined ranged from a £60 dinner in honour of Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, issued by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, to a Queen's University dinner ceremony and presentation of an honorary degree to US Secretary Hillary Clinton, worth £60.

He also turned down an invitation for a private viewing of the Crown Jewels offered by Lisburn and Castlereagh Borough Council at a cost of £60.

Gifts and invitations accepted by Andrew McCormick, director general of international relations, included one from President Donald Trump and his wife Melania to the St Patrick's Day celebrations in Washington, worth $100, and amber cufflinks worth £25, recorded as a gift from the Ambassador of Poland.

However, he declined an invite from the Irish Centre for European Law to a conference on 'Brexit and Rights in Northern Ireland: The Role of the EU-27' at a cost of £15, as well as dinner at the NI Chamber of Commerce banquet, worth £50.

Meanwhile, senior official Katrina Godfrey accepted an invitation from the Carnegie UK Trust for a speech engagement in New York at an International Seminar on Wellbeing in NI, valued at £3,000.

Other gifts listed ranged from a framed watercolour of Washington DC, a leather bound notebook, chocolates, a clock and a silk screen print to hospitality such as working lunches and refreshments.

Although The Executive Office has published its gifts and hospitality figures annually, some Stormont departments have not been releasing updated registers.

This has raised concerns over transparency, given that civil servants have been running Stormont in the absence of ministers since the Executive's collapse in 2017.

Green Party leader Clare Bailey recently told the Irish News: "It's critical that our government departments operate in a transparent and accountable way.

"It's more important than ever that civil servants are accountable and their dealings transparent as the Stormont stalemate continues."

A spokesperson for The Executive Office told the Belfast Telegraph: "The department publishes its gifts and hospitality register on an annual basis.

"Officials accepting an invitation must do so in accordance with the guidance on gifts and hospitality and must record it on the department's register."

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