Former ministers hit out at civil service employment bar

Two former ministers of the Northern Ireland Executive who were born in the Republic of Ireland have branded a prohibition on citizens from the south applying for civil servant posts as "misgovernance".

A recently advertised post for a £185,000-a-year job as the Permanent Secretary in the Department of the Environment is not open to applicants from the Republic of Ireland.

Former Minister for Agriculture in the NI Executive and SDLP deputy leader Brid Rodgers, who was born in County Donegal and is an Irish citizen, said: "I cannot understand how on the one hand it is possible for me to serve as a minister but I could not apply to work as a senior civil servant for a minister.

"This is a ridiculous state of affairs and runs entirely contrary to the guarantees of equality and parity of esteem in the Good Friday Agreement."

Former NI Executive Finance Minister Sean Farren of the SDLP said that Catholics and women continued to be "seriously underrepresented" in the senior ranks of the civil service. Dr Farren said that as Minister for Finance this was something that he had strived to change and he remained determined to "end the closed shop and open up the civil service for everyone to apply on an equal basis".

However, while a review of the civil service had recommended the end of this prohibition, this cannot be changed without a ruling by the Westminster government. Dr Farren pointed out that the review "unambiguously concluded that the prohibition on southerners was illegal."

He said: "I want to know why the civil service is taking advantage of suspension and ignoring its own legal advice. I also want to know why I am good enough to be a minister but not a senior civil servant."

A spokesman for the Northern Ireland Civil service Finance and Personnel Department confirmed that at present only British Nationals are eligible for employment in the Northern Ireland Civil Service.

He said: "The Northern Ireland Civil Service continues to apply the normal rules on nationality in the same way that they were applied under devolution. The Westminster Government is committed to changing the law on nationality with a suitable legislative opportunity occurs."

Mrs Rodgers, however, called for the competition for Permanent Secretary to be re-run and added that under the SDLP's 'Direct Rule Watch' initiative the party were "determined to hold the civil service to account".


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