NIO defends claiming 'abortion and same-sex marriage' policy job isn't new
THE Northern Ireland Office has confirmed that a policy role covering same-sex marriage and abortion is new, despite previously saying it was an existing post.
However, it insisted there has always been a person within the department who has dealt with such issues.
In January it emerged that Secretary of State Karen Bradley's department was recruiting three senior policy advisers for 'rights and equality', 'elections policy' and 'legacy casework'.
An internal ad, obtained by the News Letter, said the equality role would involve "driving forward the government's approach to issues around equal marriage, abortion and human rights in the context of EU exit".
The move fuelled speculation of preparations for direct rule if Stormont power-sharing talks failed.
The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) rejected any link to the political process, saying there are "no plans to intervene in these areas of devolved competence".
It also insisted these were "not newly-created posts – they are existing posts which are being filled following staff moves".
However, in a Freedom of Information (FOI) response to The Irish News, the NIO said the jobs are "newly created".
All three advertised roles were created in 2017 following the Stormont executive's collapse.
In its response, the NIO said the equality post was created in a restructure of roles and "while this specific post was newly created at that stage, the post-holder would be responsible for a range of human rights and equality policy areas which have historically been part of the department's remit".
It said this was similarly the case for the 'elections policy' post, and the 'legacy casework' role was a new post "to add additional support to this existing team".
"The department has historically had policy responsibility for issues relating to abortion and same-sex marriage and, more recently, Brexit," it added.
Internal correspondence shows how following the News Letter article, the NIO's press office liaised with senior officials to issue an updated statement saying the jobs were "not newly created posts".
Asked why NIO had made this claim, a press office spokesman said: "The NIO recruits to a wide range of policy role to support the delivery of its objectives.
"There has always existed a person at the relevant grade within the NIO who has dealt with rights and equality issues."