Massive NIO recruitment drive signals 'direct rule by stealth'
The Northern Ireland Office's (NIO) recruitment of more than two dozen policy advisers signals the "arrival of direct rule by stealth", according to a former shadow secretary of state.
Labour MP Owen Smith said the secondment of 25 staff from the Northern Ireland civil service to the NIO – including ten senior advisers' jobs – was a clear indication that staff levels were being ramped up in preparation for the long-term mothballing of devolution.
The new two-year posts, the salaries for which range from £36,000-£54,000, were advertised on Monday via an internal civil service trawl. The large number of vacancies available contrasts with NIO recruitment patterns over recent years. In the aftermath the 2007 St Andrews Agreement and the restoration of devolution, staffing levels were steadily reduced.
However, following several failed efforts to get Stormont back up-and-running, it would appear the the secretary of state's department is now increasing its resources in preparation for a period of direct rule.
A spokesman for the NIO declined to say whether the recruitment drive signalled the imminent imposition of direct rule. He said the posts were "resources to meet the department's ongoing needs".
Mr Smith, who worked as a special adviser to former NIO minister Paul Murphy, said the numbers involved represented a "massive intake" when compared to the level of vacancies over the past decade.
"This is just the latest illustration of what we've known for some while – Northern Ireland is moving towards direct rule by stealth," he said.
He said that rather than preparing for a period of direct rule, Secretary of State Karen Bradley needed to increase efforts to restore devolution.
"On Monday we saw another budget passed in Westminster with massive political decisions being made about resources allocation and no serious scrutiny of how the money will be spent," he said.
"This twilight zone-style government is no good for the people of Northern Ireland nor is it helping the talks process to restore devolution – Mrs Bradley needs to concede what we have now is a flimsy version of direct rule."
SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon said that rather than recruiting extra staff, the NIO would be "better placed putting its energy into seeing the restoration of devolved government".
"The SDLP has set out a clear proposal which would clear the decks and remove any excuses from the DUP and Sinn Féin about the formation of an executive," she said.
"However it requires the British Government to stand up to the DUP and to date, pandering to the DUP remains their priority."