Northern Ireland news

The seven-page policy paper behind civil service chief David Sterling's Twitter account

David Sterling, interim head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service
Brendan Hughes

IT'S A social media platform known for its brevity, but it seems that for Stormont civil servants even Twitter can be the subject of surprising amounts of bureaucracy.

An official Twitter account was launched last month for David Sterling, head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS), putting a face to the man effectively running Stormont in the continued absence of politicians.

Internal Stormont documents obtained by The Irish News give an insight into the detailed preparations that went into setting up his online profile.

Civil servants compiled a seven-page policy document on the launch of the official Twitter account.

Explaining the reason for setting it up, the documentation says it would help achieve the "People Strategy" which "sets out a vision of a well-led, high-performing, outcome-focused NICS".

It says a Twitter profile would help create a "visible top leadership" and would "help staff feel valued and proud to be a Northern Ireland civil servant".

The paper says hashtags "should be used consistently on posts where appropriate" and includes 20 examples, including "#leadership", "#proud" and "#improvinglives".

In a section on following other profiles, it lists nine categories of possible accounts to follow including Stormont departments and "media outlets and certain journalists and commentators".

But the document adds: "However, the account should not be used to engage directly with members of the public or respond to media enquiries, requests for information or meetings."

It proposes that press officers manage the account in the first instance, with arrangements to be reviewed.

Mr Sterling's first Twitter message was at a gay pride parade in Belfast.

He posted a photo of himself with NICS staff taking part in Belfast Pride with the message: "Delighted that #myfirstTweet as Head of the NI Civil Service is from Belfast Pride.

"As an employer to 23,000 people, the NICS respects and values diversity and is committed to delivering an inclusive workplace for all our people #NICSdiversity #ComeOutforChange."

At the time Stormont officials insisted it had "no connection to the debate" on same-sex marriage, and '#ComeOutForChange' was used in the tweet as it was the theme of this year's Pride festival.

Officials also said one person was involved in drafting the tweet.

However, the internal papers include a copy of the draft tweet, adding: "We have discussed your new Twitter account and agreed to launch it with your attendance at Belfast Pride."

When queried about this, an Executive Office spokeswoman insisted that "one person drafted the tweet", although declined to say who.

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