Northern Ireland news

David Sterling fears executive's absence may become the 'new normal'

David Sterling warned that some social housing projects may have to be shelved if the executive is not restored

THE head of the regional civil service has voiced concerns that the absence of a Stormont executive may become the "new normal".

David Sterling said there had been a "slow decay and stagnation" in public services since the collapse of devolution two years ago.

Civil servants have been running departments in the absence of ministers but are constrained by legislation and unable to make major policy decisions.

The senior civil servant said there had not yet been a "cliff edge moment", where the workings of government departments almost collapsed, but oversight of the health, education and criminal justice sectors had proved challenging.

He warned that some social housing projects may have to be shelved if the executive is not restored.

"There are big issues which need to be addressed by ministers, and in the absence of that there is a real risk that we might actually have to mothball some of our social housing," Mr Sterling told the BBC.

Former justice minister Claire Sugden said the north's political system will take a "generation - perhaps two" to fix.

She pointed to the stalling of legislation on domestic violence – which she had initiated – as a particularly disappointing result of the political deadlock.

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