Northern Ireland Civil Service

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The Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) (Irish: Státseirbhís Thuaisceart Éireann),[1] is the permanent bureaucracy of Crown employees that supports the Northern Ireland Executive, the devolved government of Northern Ireland.

The NICS is one of three civil services in the United Kingdom, the others being the Home Civil Service and the HM Diplomatic Service. The heads of these services are members of the Permanent Secretaries Management Group.[2][3]

History[edit]

1921–1972[edit]

Northern Ireland was established by the Government of Ireland Act 1920 and the first devolved Parliament of Northern Ireland took office on 7 June 1921. The departments of the Northern Ireland Government were initially the following:

An additional Ministry of Health and Local Government was formed in 1944, in preparation for the National Health Service and other aspects of the welfare state. In 1965, that department was split between the Ministry of Health and Social Services and the new Ministry of Development. A further Ministry of Community Relations was established in 1969, in response to the early stages of the Troubles.

1972–1999[edit]

The Parliament of Northern Ireland was dissolved on 30 March 1972, when direct rule was imposed by the United Kingdom Government. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland assumed responsibility for government and was assisted by a new Northern Ireland Office. The NIO absorbed the Ministry of Home Affairs and took direct responsibility for security, justice and constitutional policy.

Following the Sunningdale Agreement, a power-sharing Northern Ireland Executive briefly held office between 1 January 1974 and 28 May 1974. The following departments were accountable to the Executive:


  • Department of Agriculture
  • Department of Commerce
  • Department of Education
  • Department of the Environment
  • Department of Finance
  • Department of Health and Social Services
  • Department of Housing, Local Government and Planning
  • Office of Law Reform

The Executive collapsed due to the loyalist Ulster Workers' Council Strike and direct rule resumed. The Troubles continued in the absence of a political settlement.

Between May 1974 and December 1999, departments were led politically by junior ministers in the Northern Ireland Office. UK Governments alternated between the Conservative and Labour parties, neither of which included members of parliament from Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Civil Service, uniquely in the British Isles and Western Europe, was not accountable to locally elected political representatives during this time.

From 1982 to 1999, there were six departments:[4][5]

  • Department of Agriculture
  • Department of Economic Development
  • Department of Education
  • Department of the Environment
  • Department of Finance and Personnel
  • Department of Health and Social Services

1999 onwards[edit]

The Good Friday Agreement (April 1998) led to the formation of the Northern Ireland Executive on 2 December 1999, which ended 25 years of direct rule. The Executive was suspended several times due to political disputes (notably from October 2002 to May 2007) and each suspension resulted in the return of direct rule. Devolution was restored on 8 May 2007 and has continued without interruption since then.

Devolution resulted in an increase in the number of Civil Service departments, accountable to a cross-community Executive of 11 ministers. The Executive initially had 10 departments: [6]

The number of departments increased to 11 (and ministers to 12) when the Department of Justice was created on 12 April 2010. The Northern Ireland Office continues in operation, representing the interests of the United Kingdom Government in Northern Ireland.

Composition[edit]

As of June 2011, the Northern Ireland Civil Service employed 26,889 staff (out of a total public sector employment of 218,577). The breakdown by department was as follows:[7]

Department Employment
Office of the First and Deputy First Minister 384
Department of Agriculture and Rural Development 3,842
Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure 274
Department of Education 613
Department for Employment and Learning 2,109
Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment 583
Department of the Environment 2,683
Department of Finance and Personnel 3,589
Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety 732
Department of Justice 1,633
Department for Regional Development 2,413
Department for Social Development 7,458
Public Prosecution Service (non-ministerial) 576
Northern Ireland Civil Service 26,889

Other major public sector employers included National Health Service trusts (68,263), schools, colleges and education and library boards (65,514), local government (12,134) and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (10,542). The public sector constituted 31.3% of the region's workforce.[8]

Permanent Secretaries Management Group (PSMG)[edit]

The PSMG is in charge of both the Northern Ireland Civil Service and Her Majesty's Civil Service. The group is chaired by Head of the Home Civil Service,[9] the Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service and the Head of the Diplomatic Service. The group also consists of all first permanent secretaries and other selected permanent secretaries and directors general.

Civil Service Commissioners for Northern Ireland[edit]

The Civil Service Commissioners for Northern Ireland are not civil servants and are independent of the Executive. Their main functions are the same as the Civil Service Commissioners of Her Majesty's Home Civil Service.

Organisation[edit]

There are three staff groups within the Northern Ireland Civil Service – Senior Civil Service, Non Industrial & Industrial

The Senior Civil Service has four grades

  • Grade 5 – Normally head of a division and would possibly manage several different branches
  • Grade 3 – Head of a Directorate or Executive Agency
  • Permanent Secretary – Head of the Department or Government Legal Services
  • Head of Service – Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service


The Non Industrial is split into the following eight grades

  • Administrative Assistant
  • Administrative Officer
  • Executive Officer II
  • Executive Officer I
  • Staff Officer
  • Deputy Principal
  • Grade 7
  • Grade 6

Each grade has a number of different disciplines (e.g. General Service, Professional & Technical etc.)


Industrials have many different grades that are split into pay groups that would do similar types of work (e.g. Road workers in DRD or Craft grades in DARD)


References[edit]