A former chief of staff to David Trimble has called on Westminster’s Northern Ireland Affairs Committee to investigate what civil servants have been doing in Northern Ireland in the absence of any democratic control or accountability.
Since March, officials in Stormont departments have been in complete control of public services in Northern Ireland due to the inability of Sinn Fein and the DUP to form a power-sharing Executive.
In the current circumstances where there is neither devolution nor direct rule it must fall to our sovereign parliament to ensure that government in this part of the United Kingdom is not being manipulated for partisan political reasonsDavid Campbell
Their decisions – or refusal to make decisions, citing the absence of ministers – have increasingly become the focus of public debate and last week the permanent secretary of a Stormont department took the highly unusual step of doing an interview with the BBC to explain his controversial decision to grant planning permission for a vast incinerator which will handle most of Northern Ireland’s black bin waste.
There are also concerns – although mostly still only expressed in private – among some in Stormont officialdom about the prolonged absence of any political control, with reports and strategies piling up but becoming increasingly outdated with each month that passes before some minister or Assembly body will be able to examine them.
David Campbell, a former chairman of the Ulster Unionist Party who was a special adviser to Lord Trimble when he was first minister, told the News Letter that Westminster’s Northern Ireland Affairs Committee should as its first item of business begin an inquiry into the administration of government in Northern Ireland since the collapse of devolution in March.
Mr Campbell urged the committee to seek evidence from senior officials in the main Stormont departments and from the Northern Ireland Office “to ascertain if any political pressure was applied to in some cases prevent spending decisions being taken and in other cases to encourage controversial decisions to be taken”.
Mr Campbell said that he found the incinerator decision “strange” while “over the past few weeks the public has been informed of cutbacks to education and health provision because of the absence of local ministers to take decisions”.
He said that Westminster should instigate “a clear audit of the decision-making over the past few months” because “in the current circumstances where there is neither devolution nor direct rule it must fall to our sovereign parliament to ensure that government in this part of the United Kingdom is not being manipulated for partisan political reasons”.
The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee is a cross-party committee of MPs which scrutinises the work of the government in Northern Ireland and can launch inquiries into issues relevant to the province.
However, since June’s general election led to the SDLP losing its three MPs there are now no Irish nationalist MPs on the committee while the DUP now has three members.