Man leading Northern Ireland in absence of government to retire

David Sterling says last three years among most difficult of 40-year civil service career

David Sterling, the civil servant who has led Northern Ireland for almost three years in the absence of a powersharing government at Stormont, is to retire. File photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images.

David Sterling, the civil servant who has led Northern Ireland for almost three years in the absence of a powersharing government at Stormont, is to retire. File photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images.

 

The civil servant who has led Northern Ireland for almost three years in the absence of a government is to retire.

David Sterling, head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, told colleagues and local political leaders on Friday morning that he is to step down in August.

In a statement, the North’s Executive Office said Mr Sterling had made the announcement now “so that a competition for his successor can be launched at the earliest opportunity when an Executive is restored”.

Northern Ireland’s powersharing Assembly at Stormont collapsed in January 2017 following a row over a renewable heating scheme. Fresh political talks aimed at its restoration are due to begin later this month.

Mr Sterling said it has been an “honour and a privilege” to lead the civil service. The 61-year-old, who has been a civil servant for more than 40 years, said he had always intended to retire next year.

‘Difficult’

“The last three years have been among the most challenging and difficult in the history of the Northern Ireland Civil Service,” he said. “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.

“The enormity of the task has put significant pressure on the NICS and I am proud of the way we have responded.

“Throughout my career, including my time as Head of the Civil Service, I have been impressed and humbled by the work of civil servants across departments and I want to thank them for the great work they do every day to help make people’s lives better.

“It has been an honour and a privilege to lead this organisation and I look forward to continuing to do so for the next number of months.”