The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, made a number of announcements on the 6 September 2018 concerning the political impasse in Northern Ireland. While the cut to the pay of the MLAs made the headlines it was the discussion about the role of the Civil Service and decision making powers that may be of significantly greater relevance.
Following the decision in the Northern Ireland High Court overturning the decision of senior civil service staff to grant planning permission to a controversial power plant the decision making has been in limbo. Decisions deemed to require policy or strategic intervention have been stalled as no elected representative has been in position to make those decisions or ratify steps already in the pipeline.
This lacuna has impacted health, education, infrastructure and policing and has been criticised by the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan, in his address at the opening of the new Court year. He particularly addressed the lack of any progress in the implementation of the recommendations of the Historic Institutional Abuse Inquiry.
The Secretary of State told MPs that she recognised the need to provide reassurance and clarity to the Civil Service and people of Northern Ireland and that she intended to introduce legislation to achieve that and to grant powers to those running the Northern Ireland departments some authority to make decisions “…in the public interest and to ensure the continued delivery of public services.”
In the announcement the Secretary of State ruled out a new election process and will include legislation to set aside the requirement to call an election which is currently in force.
The continued absence of political leadership is a significant problem for many in Northern Ireland where legacy concerns related to the Troubles sit alongside the recommendations from Sir Anthony Hart’s recommendations with limited, if any, progress and without further funding are unlikely to progress.
We will monitor closely the powers granted in the draft legislation to see if there is likely to be any progress in the recommendations to appoint a Commissioner for victims, social services funding and a redress scheme following the recommendations in the HIAI report.
Authored by BLM’s Ciara McReynolds, Solicitor