Belfast Telegraph

MLA hits out over lack of civil servants at committee

Civil servants at Stormont's department of culture have come under fire for not attending important scrutiny committee meetings.

MLAs dismissed claims that staffing pressures meant officials have had to watch proceedings online instead of attending Parliament Buildings.

Democratic Unionist William Humphrey told colleagues on the Culture Arts and Leisure Committee: "There is no DALO (Department Assembly Liaison Officer) here at all; hasn't been for weeks.

"I just don't think that is good enough."

The DALO acts as a conduit between minister Caral Ni Chuilin's department and the committee which is tasked with overseeing its work.

Usually a mid-ranking manager, the official deals with any issues or correspondence that may arise during the weekly briefings, which are streamed live via the Assembly website.

A clearly irked Mr Humphrey slammed what he described as a "conscience decision" not to attend.

"If that was a politician doing that they would be absolutely gutted," the North Belfast MLA added. "We are being told they are watching the committee. We don't know that is the case.

"I do not buy that they cannot send someone here - a link with our committee staff to the department - to the scrutiny committee that is charged to scrutinise the running of the department when there have been so many controversial issues over the last number of months."

A committee clerk suggested the ongoing civil service voluntary severance scheme has had an impact.

However, committee chairman Nelson McCausland, also of the DUP, said: "There is a difference between watching it on television and being in the room where you actually get a better understanding of interactions."

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