Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland Civil Service head David Sterling to retire after 'difficult' three years without Stormont Executive

Outgoing Head of the Civil Service David Sterling.
Outgoing Head of the Civil Service David Sterling.
Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

Northern Ireland's most senior civil servant has announced his retirement saying the past three years without devolved government were among the most challenging and difficult of his career.

Head of the Civil Service David Sterling announced he will retire at the end of August 2020.

Mr Sterling (61) said that he had informed colleagues of his desire to retire on Friday morning.

"We have found ourselves in the unique situation of working without ministerial direction to keep public services running and deliver the best possible outcomes for our people at a time of unprecedented challenge," Mr Sterling said.

“The enormity of the task has put significant pressure on the NICS and I am proud of the way we have responded.

In January 2017 Stormont collapsed when Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy First Minister over the RHI scandal and equality issues.

The subsequent failure to form an Executive by the parties effectively put Mr Sterling in charge of running Northern Ireland.

Mr Sterling was also dragged into the RHI scandal as one of the main figures in running the botched green energy scheme.

Senior figures within the civil service, including Mr Sterling, were called before the Inquiry to give evidence around the scheme's mismanagement.

It was found to have been set up with a "perverse incentive" which allowed those on the scheme to earn more money, the more they used their heating systems.

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The head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, David Sterling giving evidence to an earlier session of the RHI Inquiry

Appearing before the inquiry Mr Sterling apologised for the "multiple failings" in the way the scheme was carried out and pledged to implement the recommendations of Sir Patrick Coghlin's report into the scandal.

The report is set to be published sometime in the new year.

Mr Sterling joined the civil service in February 1978 and was appointed to lead it in 2017.

He admitted the lack of devolved government had put added pressures on the civil service during his tenure.

He paid tribute to many people he had worked with over the years.

 “Throughout my career, including my time as Head of the Civil Service, I have been impressed and humbled by the work of civil servants across departments and I want to thank them for the great work they do every day to help make people’s lives better," he said.

“It has been an honour and a privilege to lead this organisation and I look forward to continuing to do so for the next number of months.”

Director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium Aodhan Michael Connolly wished Mr Sterling the best for his retirement.

"While I'm happy for you and hope you have a long and enjoyable retirement, you will be severely missed," he wrote on Twitter.

Manufacturing NI said that Mr Sterling had shown "great leadership in the worst of circumstances".

UK Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill also paid tribute to Mr Sterling.

"I’d like to thank David Sterling for his decades of dedicated public service to the citizens and communities in Northern Ireland and to his country, notably in the past few years in the absence of the Executive," he said.

"He is an outstanding colleague with whom we will continue to work closely in his last few months as Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service and whose well-earned retirement we will mark at the appropriate time."

The Executive Office said that a recruitment competition for the Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service will be launched in due course.

When Mr Sterling was appointed in 2017 the post had a salary ranging from £148,652 to £178,709.

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