Sunday Life

Union anger over Del's 'Big Brother' politics quiz

By Ciaran McGuigan
13 February 2005

A GOVERNMENT department that quizzed its civil servants on their political affiliations was last night accused of "Big Brother" tactics.

The Department of Employment and Learning - headed by Education Minister Barry Gardiner - wrote to intermediate and senior civil servants last month, demanding to know of membership of political parties.

However, they were later forced to back down in their demands for political details, following pressure from trade unions.

The political activity allowed by various grades of civil servants is already laid out under Civil Service terms and conditions.

The move provoked an angry reaction from the NIPSA union.

NIPSA general council member, Patrick Mulholland, said: "This attempt to gather information on individuals has the air of political vetting and a police state.

"The fact that management have ignored accepted guidelines for political activity by civil servants, and have been attempting to gather information through improper channels is a source of concern.

"I would welcome the fact that the attempt has been stopped, but assurances must be given that this will not arise again."

A DEL spokesman said: "This issue arose because of an Northern Ireland Audit Office recommendation to the department.

"The request to deputy principals was set aside for the time being, as the union indicated they should be consulted on the matter of such staff being asked, and with which the department readily agreed.

"The nature of the NIAO recommendation was that it be asked at lower grades which have significant responsibilities."

The spokesman added that all replies they had received in relation to the poll had been destroyed.


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