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Draft departmental decision-making powers bill for NI panned

Words: Roger Milne

The UK Government's draft proposals to end decision-making paralysis in Northern Ireland do not provide proper accountability and are an invitation for legal challenge, warn unionists.

Fresh talks to resolve the impasse at Stormont were held this week, involving the province’s parties and secretary of state Karen Bradley.

According to media reports, she gave politicians a sight of the proposed legislation, still in draft, which would set out the powers of senior civil servants to make decisions in the absence of ministers.

A press officer for the Northern Ireland Office refused to confirm or deny to The Planner that the legislation runs to just three pages or that, according to the BBC, guidance published about the measures says that major policy decisions, including ones that involve big public expenditure commitments or a major change in an existing policy, “should normally be left for ministers to decide or agree”.

Bradley insisted: “I am deeply committed and determined to see the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland at the earliest opportunity.

“I’ve continued to engage with the political parties and the Irish government, as appropriate, seeking their views on both the legislation I will shortly be taking forward and the means of restarting talks aimed at restoring devolution.”

Officials have been unable to take major decisions without ministerial oversight after a court ruling earlier this year that a senior civil servant acted outside his powers in approving a controversial waste facility in County Antrim.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds was quoted as saying the draft bill “does not provide sufficient certainty about decision-making”.

He added: “It does not provide proper accountability and I think more work needs to be done on that and we have left the SoS with a list of concerns that she needs to address before this legislation is tabled.”

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