28 June 2007 Edition
The Mary Nelis Column
They haven’t gone away you know
They haven’t gone away you know, they just move sideways when they retire. They have been there a long time. They came up through the ranks of the various Loyal Order Lodges as did their fathers before them.
The senior ranks of the Six County Civil Service has changed little since Lord Brookeborough’s golden days. Their primary role then and now has been to maintain the ethos of a ‘Protestant Parliament for a Protestant people’. The demise of their beloved Stormont in 1972 may have ruffled a few feathers but Direct Rule never really challenged the entrenched positions of the old guard. They knew they could rely on the fly in British Ministers to support the exclusion of Catholic nationalists from policy and decision making positions within the various government institutions.
British Ministers who drew the short straw or who fell from grace in Westminster political circles and were banished to the ‘province’ knew their place within political unionism. In any case most of them were either inept or so disinterested that few challenged the ‘in your face’, blatant discrimination against the nationalists population.
Even the various British initiatives over the years, like Sunningdale or the Anglo-Irish Agreement did not interrupt the work of permanent secretaries determined to preserve the status quo.
West of the Bann – that unknown territory beyond the Sperrins – would not be visited by inward investment, advance factories, motorways, railways or universities.
The Good Friday Agreement promised to change all that. Equality was the name of the game and the strategy was to create a level playing field in those areas which official British government statistics designated as the most deprived areas in the North. The most underprivileged areas according to the statistics were in West Belfast and Derry.
This week it was revealed that one of the retired Senior Civil Servants, responsible for policy and decision making and now retired, is netting almost £90,000 a year from appointments to various Government agencies. Ronnie Spence, according to the Belfast Telegraph, sent a memo to all departments during the last Assembly, advising them not to co-operate with the newly elected MLA’S.
Ronnie retired shortly after with the customary golden handshake and the lucrative civil service pension. But like old soldiers, old civil servants never die. They move on to more lucrative pastures in the various unelected quangos. He is interim chair of the Legal Services Commission at an annual salary of £14,856; Chair of the Probation Board at a salary of £28,204; and deputy chair of the National Heritage Lottery Fund at a salary of £19,847. Ronnie was permanent secretary for the Department of the Environment and the Department of Regional development which may account for the under investment in roads, rail, water and sewerage.
Leaving that aside, the dead hand of Senior Civil Servants has wrought havoc in the equality legislation which has been creatively bypassed while targeting social need has been, like the motorway to Derry, effectively rerouted.