Northern Ireland news

Stormont department thanks The Irish News for highlighting missing civil service code of conduct

The civil service code of conduct taken off-line for more than 72 hours

A COMPUTER glitch saw the civil service code of conduct taken off-line for more than 72 hours until its absence was spotted by The Irish News.

The paper has been thanked for bringing the broken link to the attention of the Department of Finance – the second Stormont department this year to do so in similar circumstances.

In May, The Irish News was thanked by the Department for Economy after it corrected misinformation published by its officials, that seemingly went unnoticed for nine months.

The department had consistently denied that it had commissioned research which was critical of Stormont's energy governance – yet its own e-bulletin said otherwise.

The Department of Finance reposted the full and updated civil service standards of conduct on Monday, after it had been off-line for up to four days.

“The online material was updated last week which inadvertently affected the external web link to the policy document,” a statement said.

The changes were later confirmed as relating to the "practical arrangements for reporting concerns regarding breaches of the code of ethics to civil service commissioners".

It is understood there were no changes to the sections governing the appointment of senior civil servants to private sector roles.

The rules have come under close scrutiny in recent weeks following former civil service head Jenny Pyper's appointment to the board of Firmus Energy.

It was revealed last week that Ms Pyper is not subject to any 'cooling off' period in relation to her role as interim head of the civil service, because she was not a civil servant during her 10-month tenure.

Two Stormont committees have subsequently asked for greater clarity around her appointment and its conditions, as senior civil servants transferring to the private sector are usually subject to a 'cooling off' period of up to two years.

SDLP MLA Matthew O'Toole said he was surprised to learn the standards of conduct were "quietly removed and updated without any public statement".

"At the minute, there are very serious questions about the apparent lack of process around a departing civil service boss taking up a sensitive business appointment," he said.

"The rules appear opaque and are applied in private without any clear public reporting structures but, of course, strangest of all - these rules weren't even applicable to the outgoing head of the civil service, because she was not technically a civil servant."

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