Permanent secretaries of the Northern Ireland Civil Service have been asked to attend a meeting with assembly members and local authorities to try to find a way through the legislative paralysis caused by the suspension of the devolved government.
The Northern Ireland Local Government Association (Nilga) is concerned that powers the province’s 11 councils are due to take over from Stormont – notably regeneration – are marooned in limbo because legislation cannot be completed without ministers in place.
A Nilga spokesman said the meeting on 24 August will have no powers to force either civil servants or local authorities to do anything, but it was hoped that discussions involving permanent secretaries, council chief executives, councillors and assembly members might be able to find workable routes to unblocking decisions on at least some issues.
Nilga has invited Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley, or her nominee, to chair the meeting.
Northern Ireland has been without a functioning executive since January 2017 when a political dispute came to a head between the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein – the two largest groups.
This has meant that no ministers have been in office to authorise decisions, a situation further complicated by the Court of Appeal’s July ruling that Peter May, permanent secretary at the Department for Infrastructure, lacked the power to approve a £240m incinerator project.
Judges said legislation required a minister to take decisions of this significance and that civil servants could not substitute for them even if there were no ministers.
Nilga convened an earlier meeting in April to which only assembly members and councillors were invited.