Belfast Telegraph

'We need our ministers back 'quickly'- top NI civil servant calls for return of power-sharing as no-deal Brexit looms

David Sterling is head of Northern Ireland’s Civil Service (Niall Carson/PA)
David Sterling is head of Northern Ireland’s Civil Service (Niall Carson/PA)

The head of the civil service in Northern Ireland has called for the "quick return" of ministers at Stormont as a no-deal Brexit looms.

David Sterling, speaking at a conference organised by the Centre for Cross Border Studies in Dundalk on Friday, said he was concerned about what will happen if the civil service is left without ministerial direction in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

“We are already at the limits of what civil servants can and cannot do, which is why our conclusion is that the range of challenges and the magnitude of the decisions that will be needed to mitigate the most severe impacts could not, and should not, be taken by civil servants. We need our ministers back, and we need them back quickly," he said.

Mr Sterling warned that a no-deal Brexit would have a "profound and lasting effect" on Northern Ireland and that economic activity would drop by around 9% over 10 years. He also expressed concern about the impact on beef, sheep and dairy farmers.

He also said 8,000 small firms, employing 40,000 employees, would see exports affected.

He added: “There is potential for regulatory divergence in the electricity market. The lights will not go out but we could see an increase in prices. We may face a significant disruption to supplies of foods, medicines and chemicals, again leading to higher prices.”

stormont front.jpg
Stormont institutions have not been functioning for more than two and a half years.

Mr Sterling also pointed to warnings that there could be public protest and civil unrest in Northern Ireland in a no-deal scenario.

The top civil servant also said a sense of threat to people's identity, calls for a border poll and political instability was making it more difficult for Northern Ireland's political parties to restore the political institutions. 

“So our assessment is that the cumulative impact of all of this will be grave for Northern Ireland politically, economically and societally," he said.

“We have been working without the direction of democratically elected and accountable ministers for over two and half years now. And I want to be very clear. We need to see our executive restored as quickly as possible.”

Mr Sterling pointed to demographic changes in Northern Ireland, saying that 35,000 EU citizens have left since 2016.

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