Northern Ireland news

Stormont chiefs urged to ensure transparency in public appointments

Senior civil servant Richard Pengelly
Brendan Hughes

STORMONT officials have been urged to ensure transparency in appointments made to public bodies in the absence of ministers following concerns raised by a standards watchdog.

The Irish News on Saturday revealed that the Department of Health (DoH) has placed 16 people on the boards of five public bodies this year.

This is despite a minister usually being needed to run recruitment processes and approve new appointments.

They include four people appointed to the Fire Service board – just weeks after the public appointments commissioner Judena Leslie found a series of flaws in the department's recruitment process.

Ms Leslie said she was "surprised" the department had made appointments without consulting her office, and they would be contacting DoH about "issues around transparency and compliance".

She said the public appointments code requires departments to "seek an exception" to permit an appointment to be made by departmental officials without a minister.

However, DoH has defended its actions, and insisted its permanent secretary Richard Pengelly can make appointments without ministerial sign-off.

Northern Ireland has not had a power-sharing government for more than a year amid political deadlock, leaving civil servants to run Stormont departments.

Sinn Féin MLA Pat Sheehan, the party's health spokesperson, yesterday said public appointments must follow proper procedures in the absence of ministerial approval.

"It is of outmost importance that all departments – including the Department for Health – adhere to and follow proper procedures in a transparent manner.

"This is essential to ensuring public confidence in appointments."

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