Northern Ireland news

David Sterling announces retirement as head of Civil Service amid 'challenging' period without Stormont

David Sterling is to retire as head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service in August

WORK to find a new head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service cannot begin until a government is restored.

David Sterling, who announced his retirement plans yesterday, said a recruitment competition could not begin until ministers are appointed.

If Stormont is restored or direct rule is imposed, the recruitment process can start.

Mr Sterling announced yesterday he will retire on August 31 after more than three years in post.

He has led the service in the absence of Stormont ministers – a period which he described as "among the most challenging and difficult in the history of the Northern Ireland Civil Service".

"We have found ourselves in the unique situation of working without ministerial direction to keep public services running and deliver the best possible outcomes for our people at a time of unprecedented challenge," he said.

"The enormity of the task has put significant pressure on the NICS and I am proud of the way we have responded.

"Throughout my career, including my time as head of the Civil Service, I have been impressed and humbled by the work of civil servants across departments and I want to thank them for the great work they do every day to help make people's lives better.

"It has been an honour and a privilege to lead this organisation and I look forward to continuing to do so for the next number of months."

Mr Sterling said he was making the announcement now so that any recruitment process would not be delayed once a government is restored.

Dr Andrew McCormick, the senior civil servant who is overseeing the north's Brexit plans in the absence of an executive, has been tipped as a possible successor to Mr Sterling.

Sue Gray, the head of the Department of Finance, is also thought to be a leading contender to take on the top role.

Mr Sterling (61) was appointed interim head of the civil service in June 2017.

He first joined the service in 1978 and has held several high-profile posts including permanent secretary of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI).

He was permanent secretary at DETI when the botched Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme was set up in 2012.

Mr Sterling later became permanent secretary at the Department of Finance and Personnel.

Sir Mark Sedwill, the UK Cabinet Secretary, said: "I'd like to thank David Sterling for his decades of dedicated public service to the citizens and communities in Northern Ireland and to his country, notably in the past few years in the absence of the Executive. He is an outstanding colleague with whom we will continue to work closely in his last few months as Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service and whose well-earned retirement we will mark at the appropriate time."


The Head of the Civil Service has announced his intention to retire at the end of August after more than three years in the post.

David Sterling is making the announcement now so that a competition for his successor can be launched at the earliest opportunity when an Executive is restored.

Mr Sterling, whose civil service career has spanned over four decades, said he had always intended to retire in 2020. He informed colleagues this morning and has also written to local political leaders.

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