How Foster and McGuinness conspired to make the next Head of the Civil a political appointment…

Here’s an interesting snippet, which tell us a lot about the unusually high degree of patronage available to the First and deputy First Minister. In their haste to leave office and head for the polls, the poor old Head of the Civil Service (a nominally non-political role) is staying on till they get back.

Julian O’Neill writes:

The recruitment process is now in limbo, more than three months after final interviews. Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness interviewed two contenders, but despite a winner emerging no appointment was made before the executive collapsed.

The present head of the NI Civil Service, Sir Malcolm McKibbin, who also acts the executive’s chief policy advisor, has had to delay his retirement until April as a stop-gap.

But it is the political dimension in the recruitment of his successor which has presented problems.

It could need the sign-off of the first minister and deputy first minister – posts which may not be filled quickly after the election on 2 March.

Even if they are, there is a further potential complication in that Michelle O’Neill, having replaced Mr McGuinness, was not part of the interview panel in November.

What London might do if Direct Rule is to return is also uncertain.

So how did this happen? Is it regular? Nope. It seems this breach of protocol was only brought in by the Fresh Start twins in October. Julian again:

The Executive Office defended the central roles given to Mrs Foster and Mr McGuinness in the selection process, which were changed before the post was advertised last October.

In no other part of the UK do politicians, by themselves, conduct final stage interviews for top Civil Service positions.

The Executive Office said this is because the post holder has “a very close working relationship with both the first minister and deputy first minister”.

This is just one of several weird variations in good practice that’s made its way into the Stormont administration, like overpaid and overweening SpAds and huge liberties being taken with the secrecy laws that allow for and give protection to foreign donors.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty