NIC-ICTU calls for civic oversight of Civil Servants decisions in absence of Stormont minister

22 Mar 2019

NI Pic 4 - NIC marks 20th anniversary of Belfast Agreement at closed Stormont

The NI Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions is repeating its call for the Secretary of State to  take firm action and restore some accountability to Senior Civil Servants making important decisions affecting everyone in Northern Ireland.

After reports that the Northern Ireland Office is extending its legal power to suspend the requirement to hold a fresh Assembly election by five months, the trade unions representing over 200,000 workers are raising concerns about recent decisions being taken with little or no consultation with unions or other representative organisations.

ICTU Assistant General Secretary Owen Reidy commented that:  “Since the 1998 Agreement, there was a wider democratic engagement between Government and civil society, including on the draft budget and accompanying programmes. Since the collapse of Stormont it appears that this democratic engagement has been ended and there has been no genuine consultation on this budget with trade unions or the public.  For the 2018/19 budget the Department of Finance engaged in a limited exercise in which it sought ‘feedback’ on a budget briefing document over a shortened period.  Whilst we had serious concerns that this process was not genuine or meaningful consultation, not even this exercise has been engaged in this year.

 “Instead whilst the Permanent Secretary at the Department of Finance, Sue Gray has met with NIC-ICTU, the purpose of this meeting was to state that there would be no consultation on the budget.  This process has been completely unacceptable and clearly breaches the DoF obligations to consult on such a significant policy under section 75 of the NI Act 1998 and its approved Equality Scheme.  Despite the absence of Government in Stormont, these duties remain and should not have been bypassed here.

“Other major decisions are being taken with minimal oversight, across various government departments, including significant announcements in delivery of health services, that will have consequences for years to come. Meanwhile, other decisions on vital matters such as long overdue pay rises for some public sector workers, are being postponed until the return of a minister to sign things off.

“This is an increasingly intolerable situation and, in the context of Brexit, is adding to a general malaise with politics that should concern those of us who consistently advocate the full participation of all citizens in the democratic process.

“Our top ‘ask’ is for the return to Stormont of a rights-based and accountable devolved Assembly and Executive. We must also seriously examine a Forum for Social Dialogue which can represent a wide spectrum of the public.”