The system of public administration in Northern Ireland has, perhaps inevitably, been of secondary concern during 30 years of inter-communal sectarian strife. Faced with combating terrorism, successive United Kingdom governments would not consider reform of the province's local public administration, pending a resolution of the wider constitutional imbroglio. Consequently, much of the system atrophied, becoming progressively more cumbersome and ill-equipped to deal with the requirements of modern government. Moreover, to help minimise charges of sectarian discrimination, quangos provided many public services, compounding the 'democratic deficit' of Direct Rule. In 1998, the Belfast Agreement (also known as the Good Friday Agreement), offered a breakthrough in the search for a durable settlement that could command cross-community support. As part of subsequent devolved executive's Programme for Government, a Review of Public Administration (RPA) was launched to consider sub-regional governance arrangements with a view to enhancing democratic accountability and improving efficiency through streamlining the current arrangements. To that end, the RPA has been committed to adhering to clear principles on which any credible reform should be based. While devolution itself has proved fitful, the work of the RPA has continued apace. Although embarking on reforms within functioning devolution is ministers' preferred option, there is a determination to continue the reform process irrespective of the present impasse. This paper outlines the issues, values and concepts that might shape the principles for conducting a review before considering the particular context within Northern Ireland. It also considers the impediments to overhauling the present arrangements and speculates on the likely outcome.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sociology and Political Science