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Recruitment process for new Civil Service head fails to appoint candidate

David Sterling retired as Northern Ireland’s top civil servant at the end of August.

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Then head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, David Sterling speaking at Stormont Castle in Belfast where he said that it may have been impossible to hold the North West 200 motorbike race because of uncertainty over officials’ powers, following a landmark High Court decision in Northern Ireland (Niall Carson/PA)

Then head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, David Sterling speaking at Stormont Castle in Belfast where he said that it may have been impossible to hold the North West 200 motorbike race because of uncertainty over officials’ powers, following a landmark High Court decision in Northern Ireland (Niall Carson/PA)

Then head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, David Sterling speaking at Stormont Castle in Belfast where he said that it may have been impossible to hold the North West 200 motorbike race because of uncertainty over officials’ powers, following a landmark High Court decision in Northern Ireland (Niall Carson/PA)

Stormont’s leaders have failed to identify a candidate to succeed the retired head of Northern Ireland’s Civil Service.

David Sterling left his post on August 31 having announced his intention to retire last December.

The recruitment process was undertaken and First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill interviewed several candidates on Wednesday.

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David Sterling announced his intention to retire in December (Niall Carson/PA)

David Sterling announced his intention to retire in December (Niall Carson/PA)

PA

David Sterling announced his intention to retire in December (Niall Carson/PA)

They did not identify an agreed candidate.

A spokesperson for The Executive Office said: “The First Minister and deputy First Minister have not made an appointment following the recent competition for the head of the civil service.

“Next steps are currently being considered.”

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During Stormont’s powersharing impasse, Mr Sterling was effectively in charge of running public services in Northern Ireland.

He described those three years as the “most challenging and difficult in the history of the Northern Ireland Civil Service”.

SDLP MLA Colin McGrath, who is chairman of Mrs Foster and Ms O’Neill’s Assembly scrutiny committee, expressed concern.

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The SDLP’s Nicola Mallon and Colin McGrath before speaking to the media at Stormont Castle, Belfast, as talks aimed at restoring powersharing in Northern Ireland continue.

The SDLP’s Nicola Mallon and Colin McGrath before speaking to the media at Stormont Castle, Belfast, as talks aimed at restoring powersharing in Northern Ireland continue.

PA

The SDLP’s Nicola Mallon and Colin McGrath before speaking to the media at Stormont Castle, Belfast, as talks aimed at restoring powersharing in Northern Ireland continue.

He said it was “inconceivable” that the ministers had been unable to identify Mr Sterling’s replacement in 10 months.

“It is incredible, given the extended notice period, that we’re now left in a situation where the joint First Ministers have been unable to appoint a replacement and the office of our most senior civil servant is vacant,” he said.

“This speaks to total dysfunctionality.

“We’re in the middle of a global health pandemic, our economy is under severe pressure and we’re facing the chaos of Brexit, this is a moment when we need government to operate efficiently and effectively.

“It is a serious concern that we will not have a head of the civil service to implement Executive decisions quickly.

“The First Ministers need to explain what the interim arrangements will be, what the process for identifying a suitable replacement is and when we can expect an appointment for this important position.

“The Executive Office Committee will want information about this situation quickly.”


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