Murphy Strengthens Ministerial Standards and sets up independent civil service disciplinary panel

Date published: 16 March 2020

Finance Minister, Conor Murphy has strengthened governance and accountability arrangements for Ministers and established an external, independent panel to identify any potential misconduct by civil servants in relation to the findings of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) Inquiry.

A revised Code of Conduct for Ministers and new Guidance for Ministers in the exercise of their official functions have both been agreed by the Executive.

Minister Murphy said: “The strengthened Ministerial Code of Conduct builds upon the new Special Adviser Code published in January.

“Together these Codes set out the high standards expected of those in public office and reaffirm the Executive’s commitment to rebuilding public confidence in the institutions.”

The new Ministerial Code and guidance:

·         Strengthens the requirements for Ministers to declare interests and avoid conflicts of interest;

·         Makes clear that Ministers are responsible for the management, conduct and discipline of their special advisers;

·         Underlines the need to record ministerial meetings and decisions;

·         Requires declarations of interests, meetings with external organisations and details of gift and hospitality received to be published regularly;

·         Sets out the responsibility of Accounting Officers for compliance with the Equality Duty (Section 75); and

·         Details the accountability of Ministers to the Assembly including the need for Assembly committees to be provided with the information they require.

An independent panel will be established to rapidly investigate alleged breaches of the Ministerial Code. On receipt of complaints, a preliminary examination will be conducted within seven working days to determine if the complaint should be investigated. Any further investigation will be completed within 15 days and the panel can make a finding on the relative seriousness of any breach. The published findings may provide grounds upon which the Assembly and/or the nominating officer of the Minister’s party can impose sanctions.

Civil service disciplinary panel

The RHI Inquiry published its report on Friday 13 March. The Department has established an independent panel to examine the role of civil servants involved in the RHI Scheme and whether or not their actions met professional standards. Commenting on the independent panel to identify potential misconduct by Civil Servants, Minister Murphy said:

“Given the exceptional nature and circumstances of the RHI Inquiry, an independent panel made up of three highly qualified and experienced individuals external to the local civil service will consider the RHI report and identify any potential disciplinary charges relating to civil servants.”

Based on this advice, an internal panel of three NICS Permanent Secretaries who have not been involved in the RHI Scheme will decide on potential further action, hold disciplinary hearings and take decisions on disciplinary outcomes. Any matters relating to staff at Permanent Secretary level and above will be passed to the Cabinet Secretary to consider. 

Proposed changes to the NICS Code of Ethics have also been agreed and the Department of Finance will consult the civil service trade unions and the Civil Service Commission before issuing the new Code.

Notes to editors: 

Notes to editors:

1.    The new Ministerial Code and associated documents, including a new protocol for the appointment and role of Assembly Private Secretaries has also been published at https://www.finance-ni.gov.uk/publications/ministerial-code

2.    Biographies for the external NICS discipline panel members:

·         June Milligan has extensive experience as a senior civil servant, her last role was Director General Local Government and Communities and Board member in the Welsh Government. She has also served as a diplomat and as Head of Department at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. She is currently a lay member of the Court of the University of Glasgow and was until recently an Equality and Human Rights Commissioner. June’s areas of interest and expertise are people-centred: in leadership, diversity, governance and ethics. June was appointed as a Civil Service Commissioner on 1 June 2017.

·         Niamh O’Donoghue is a former top level civil servant who during the course of her civil service career worked in five different government organisations. She has almost 40 years’ career experience of organisation leadership and development, human resource management, policy analysis, governance, and strategic planning. She served as a member of TLAC (the Top Level Appointments Commission in Ireland) for a number of years up to her retirement from the civil service in 2017. She is a Vice President of the Institute of Public Administration (Ireland), a member of the Board of Directors for the Social Innovation Fund Ireland, and the audit committee of National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG).

·         Jim Barron is a former senior civil servant who worked for the Cabinet Office for 27 years. During his career he was for 11 years Secretary to several independent bodies, including the Civil Service Commissioners and the Commissioner for Public Appointments. Prior to retirement he was Chief Executive of the Office of Parliamentary Counsel. He now carries out review and inquiry work for a number of Government departments. He is also a member of the Security Vetting Appeals Panel.

3.    Panel members will be paid £400/€475 per day.

4.    Staff will have the right to appeal the internal panel’s decision. Appeals will be heard by a panel of two NICS Permanent Secretaries or for staff members at Permanent Secretary level and above by two Permanent Secretaries in the GB Civil Service who are unconnected with RHI and are not part of the NICS panel.

5.       The NICS Standards of Conduct is available here: https://www.finance-ni.gov.uk/sites/default/files/publications/dfp/Standards%20of%20Conduct%20-%20version%2018.0%20-%20June%202017.pdf

6.       The NICS Discipline Policy is available here: https://www.finance-ni.gov.uk/sites/default/files/publications/dfp/6.03%20Discipline%20policy%20V7.0%20final%20version.pdf

7.           All media enquiries to the Department of Finance Press Office on 028 9081 6724. Out of hours please contact the Duty Press Officer on 028 9037 8110 and your call will be returned.

8.           Follow us on Twitter @dptfinance

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