Northern Ireland news

David Sterling's Civil Service role is on 'interim' basis due to impasse

David Sterling is 'interim head' of the Civil Service. Picture by Mal McCann
Brendan Hughes

THE chief civil servant in charge of running Northern Ireland in the absence of politicians is only in the role on an "interim" basis – because ministers are needed to allocate his post.

Although David Sterling is often referred to as the 'head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service', he is actually the 'interim head' of NICS.

The Executive Office said that "it will be for ministers in an incoming administration to fill the post on a permanent basis".

But a spokesman said the appointment and transfer of other Stormont departmental permanent secretaries is a "management decision" for NICS.

There have been questions over what decisions senior civil servants can make without ministers following the collapse the north's power-sharing executive last year.


In May, the High Court found the Department for Infrastructure could not approve plans for a £240m waste incinerator in Co Antrim in the absence of a minister. The department is appealing the decision.

Mr Sterling, former permanent secretary of the Department of Finance, took on his interim role in June 2017 after Sir Malcolm McKibbin retired as head of the Civil Service.

Sir Malcolm had twice delayed his retirement because of the continuing political impasse before eventually stepping down.

According to the NICS handbook, the First Minster and Deputy First Minister "play a key role" in competitions to appoint the head of NICS, and "carry out the second interviews and will score each candidate in line with the agreed criteria".

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