North/South staff are given other duties

TUV leader Jim Allister.
TUV leader Jim Allister.

NI Civil Servants working on North/South machinery have been forced to take on other duties following the collapse of the NI Executive.

The North/South Ministerial Council (NSMC), which involves meetings between ministers from NI and the Republic, was established under the Good Friday Agreement to co-ordinate activity across the island of Ireland.

But the NSMC and the NI Assembly are mutually inter-dependent institutions, meaning one cannot exist without the other.

The work of the council is supported by a Joint Secretariat, staffed by members of the NI Civil Service and the Irish Civil Service.

And the head of the NI Civil Service David Sterling has revealed that, with meetings not currently taking place due to the ongoing political crisis at Stormont, staff working on the Joint Secretariat have been allocated other duties.

In a written question to Mr Sterling, TUV leader Jim Allister asked: “Have staffing commitments been reduced in accordance with the non-functioning status of the council and, if not, why not?”

In response, Mr Sterling said the Joint Secretariat continues to be based in Armagh and “stands ready to support the operation” of the NSMC, should an Executive be formed and council meetings resume.

He added: “However in light of the fact that council meetings are not taking place, staff from the Northern Ireland Civil Service within the Joint Secretariat have taken on additional duties, separate from the normal roles.”

Speaking to the News Letter, Mr Allister said he would be seeking “further clarity” on staffing levels within the Joint Secretariat.

He added: “It is right that the North/South apparatus should be run down in the absence of an Assembly. These staff should be seconded back to wherever they came from rather than sitting in Armagh with nothing to do.

“Assembly staff have been posted out to other places. There can be no justification for keeping these staff in place if they cannot fulfil their duties.”

Mr Allister also claimed the absence of North/South apparatus “would not be missed”.

He added: “Has anyone been lamenting the loss of the North/South meetings? It is a bit like the Assembly, has anyone been missing it either?”