Northern Ireland Civil Service chief Sterling unaware of charges for meeting him
The head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service was totally unaware that business and charity figures had been charged to meet him and did not break any rules, the Executive Office has said.
David Sterling had previously attended meetings with organisations from the business, voluntary and women's sectors since taking over the reins of the Civil Service last June, and saw it as his duty to engage with a wide range of people, a spokesman said.
Criticism on social media led to a pay-to-meet Mr Sterling event scheduled for yesterday afternoon being cancelled. Figures, mainly from the business and charity sectors, were due to attend the event in a Belfast hotel, each paying £86 to spend 90 minutes with the man who is essentially running Northern Ireland in the absence of the devolved institutions functioning.
Organiser Terry McErlane, who runs Resolute Public Affairs, said the meeting had been organised in a "wholly open and transparent manner" through Eventbrite.
"David Sterling was not being paid a fee for speaking. The charge was simply to pay for the venue and catering and to cover the marketing and organisation costs," he said.
"I cancelled the event in light of the comments on social media and the impression that there was something improper about it.
"But there was actually nothing extraordinary about the meeting. It's unfortunate that the groups due to attend didn't get the chance to hear from the head of the Civil Service and that he in turn didn't get the chance to hear from those at the coal face."
An Executive Office spokesman said Mr Sterling adhered to "the standards and spirit of the Civil Service code and its core values of integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality".
He was committed to engaging with "a wide variety of stakeholders through briefings, meetings and speaking events" and to representing the Civil Service and explaining the challenges it's currently facing with no devolved ministers in place.
The spokesman continued that among the groups Mr Sterling had previously met were Women in Leadership, the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action, the NI Chamber of Commerce and the British Irish Chamber of Commerce.
Stormont sources described him as a "straight up and down public servant" trying to engage with the wider community to counter accusations that decisions were being taken by "faceless bureaucrats in ivory towers".