The head of the Northern Irish Civil Service warned that the absence of a senior Stormont employee threatens to become the "new normal" for the citizens.

Since the collapse of the executive more than two years ago, senior officials have been running day-to-day operations departments. However, important political decisions can only be taken by elected ministers.

Speaking to the BBC, Public Service Chairman David Sterling said the situation should not last any longer.

"My concern would be for people to get used to in the absence of ministers, to think that it is okay if they do not, and there is a risk that this will become the new normal – and that would not be good." he said.

In the absence of an executive, the power of officials to take decisions normally reserved for ministers has been challenged, in particular by a Supreme Court judge for a planned waste disposal facility in Co Antrim.

In May last year, a Supreme Court judge ruled that Infrastructure Director Peter May was not authorized to approve plans to build a £ 240m waste incinerator in Mallusk.

David Sterling said that in various sectors in Northern Ireland, a "major transformation" is needed, for example in the healthcare sector, where waiting in hospitals was a particular challenge.

"We have not had a moment when public services collapsed, if you will, but we have seen our public services slowly decay and stagnate," he added.

Sterling also said that changes to the education system are necessary. However, since decisions in this sector are "politically sensitive", it is "only right that these difficult decisions be taken by democratically elected and accountable ministers".

He also had gloomy warnings for housing in Northern Ireland, stating that if "big problems" are not addressed, some of the province's social housing stock may need to be "mothballed".

Belfast Telegraph Digital