The First and deputy First Ministers prefer using codes of conduct to govern the behaviour of those who support them, the head of Northern Ireland’s civil service David Sterling has said.
TUV leader Jim Allister disagrees with the use of such an approach and has introduced legislation at Stormont which would enshrine commitments in legally enforceable law rather than guidelines or codes of conduct.
DUP Assembly member Jim Wells lambasted the “appalling” behaviour of special advisers in their dealings with ministers involved in the botched RHI green energy scheme.
Mr Sterling told a Stormont committee he answered to Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill as first minister and deputy.
“Their preference is that there would be a code of conduct rather than legislation.
“I am expressing the view that I have gotten.”
He defended the devolved administration’s work since it was restored earlier this year.
It is addressing the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic for public health and the economy and little else, the senior civil servant added.
Mr Sterling said: “There have been nearly 200 actions taken by ministers within this Executive to deal with this in the space of not quite seven weeks.
“That is a remarkable achievement for an administration that is still relatively young.
“Special advisers have a very important role to play in this administration.
By and large we are getting on with itDavid Sterling
“I think special advisers can help to address some of the issues between the parties, it is useful to have special advisers.”
He said working in a five-party coalition required “unique” levels of co-operation.
“By and large what I am seeing is that, given that we have five parties who in many ways have different ideological, political views on a range of issues; I have been quite impressed at how people are prepared to set those aside to deal with the major issues that we are facing.”
He added: “By and large we are getting on with it.”
He said from day one of restored powersharing in January the first and deputy first ministers had agreed the Executive should be well-functioning.
“They wanted the three smaller parties to be given their place and play a full part in a partnership Executive.
“There is a genuine desire that we should work as a collective partnership and, particularly in terms of dealing with the pandemic, that is what I see on a daily basis.”
A public inquiry which published its report earlier this year found that corruption did not cause the RHI scheme’s failure but said it was a “project too far”.