The head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service has welcomed the return of the Stormont assembly and said that officials are ready to provide ministers with advice on the “difficult and urgent decisions” ahead.
David Sterling said civil servants, who have been running the executive for the last three years in the absence of ministers, have “gone about the business of delivering public services with their usual commitment and dedication, and I am grateful for their hard work and professionalism throughout this period”.
In comments to CSW, Sterling said the NICS "warmly welcome[s] the restoration of accountable government by the assembly and the executive" but that there are now “difficult and urgent decisions to be taken by the incoming executive”.
He added: “Guided by our core values of integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality, our role will be to give advice to ministers to enable them to make those decisions for the benefit of everyone in Northern Ireland.
“I have full confidence that NICS will embrace the challenge of working in support of the executive to deliver excellent services for the public.”
Sterling, who will retire in August, had previously said civil servants had been left in an "unacceptable" position, calling the period “among the most challenging and difficult in the history of the Northern Ireland Civil Service”.
“We have found ourselves in the unique situation of working without ministerial direction to keep public services running and deliver the best possible outcomes for our people at a time of unprecedented challenge,” he said when announcing his retirement in December.
“The enormity of the task has put significant pressure on the NICS and I am proud of the way we have responded.”
Returning first minister Arlene Foster said yesterday that said she would seek an agreement with the UK government on long-term funding for the executive as an early priority, alongside moves to improve the health service, education and justice across Northern Ireland.