Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland's civil service to review record keeping in wake of RHI scandal

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

A review is currently underway into the code of ethics for the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) after concerns around record keeping.

The Department of Finance, who are responsible for the code, told the BBC that the NICS code is currently under review.

During the RHI inquiry it emerged that some meetings Stormont meetings were not being minuted due to concerns that information from them could be accessed via Freedom of Information request.

Head of the NICS David Sterling said that some meetings weren't minuted because it was "safer" not to have a record which might have to be released following a Freedom of Information request.

He said the DUP and Sinn Fein were sensitive to criticism and senior civil servants had "got into the habit" of not recording all meetings.

Northern Ireland's code for civil servants is similar to the rest UK, but the Northern Ireland version omits the requirement to "keep accurate official records".

The Northern Ireland code says that civil servants must "handle information as openly as possible within the legal framework".

In her final written evidence to the RHI Inquiry DUP leader Arlene Foster called for a "fundamental appraisal" of the NICS.

"In my view, there is a case for consideration of extending the Home Civil Service to Northern Ireland," she said.

Mrs Foster added that the Department for Energy and Climate Change at Westminster had more than 70 people working on the RHI scheme in England. In Northern Ireland there were just two.

DUP leader Arlene Foster
DUP leader Arlene Foster

"That level of resource is simply not available to a Northern Ireland-specific Civil Service," she said.

A Department of Finance Spokesperson told the BBC that differences between the UK and Northern Ireland code were due to "two different civil services".

The spokesperson said that it would be possible to amend the code without a Stormont Assembly in place, but pointed out that a wide ranging consultation would be held before any changes were adopted.

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