Why is NI struggling to pick its top official?

Red wooden human piece standing out from the other white pieces, illustrating leadership and selecting the right candidate Image copyright Getty Images

Three years ago when Hurricane Ophelia lashed Northern Ireland, bringing down power lines and damaging buildings, David Sterling was at the centre of the storm.

With the stand-off triggered by the Renewable Heat scandal still continuing, it fell to the civil service chief to take charge.

He chaired the civil contingencies group which brought together the Stormont departments and the emergency services, and appeared before the TV cameras to reassure the public while advising them to baton down the hatches.

Civil servants generally prefer to shun attention, but Storm Ophelia wasn't the only time when the strange circumstances at Stormont thrust Mr Sterling into the limelight.

As the logjam dragged on, he flew to Washington DC to front the Northern Ireland Executive Bureau's St Patrick's events, putting a brave face on an administration in limbo.

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The legality of poteen and new restrictions puzzle

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Is poteen legal?

That was the question I was left pondering at the end of this week when a news release from the International Trade Secretary Liz Truss informed me that the UK's new Japan trade deal could benefit local exporters of Armagh Bramley apples, Lough Neagh eels and Irish poteen.

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Coronavirus: Inside Politics Q&A returns for autumn term

A map of Northern Ireland Image copyright GettyImages/omersukrugoksu

When our Inside Politics Q&A webcast set off on its tour of Northern Ireland's 18 constituencies by dropping in on Upper Bann back in April the notion that I would be presenting a programme from the study at the back of my garage seemed ridiculous.

The concept of using Zoom (whatever that was) to put viewers' questions to our locked-down politicians appeared equally outlandish.

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Claire Fox: From IRA comments controversy to a peerage

Claire Fox Image copyright KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/GETTY
Image caption Boris Johnson included Claire Fox on a list of 36 new peers at the end of last month

The Conservative Party's longest serving adviser on Northern Ireland, Lord Jonathan Caine, tells me he has "serious misgivings" over the decision to give the former Brexit MEP Claire Fox a peerage.

In recent years, Ms Fox has enjoyed a high profile, both as a pro-Brexit campaigner and as a broadcaster on BBC Radio 4's "The Moral Maze".

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A-levels: A is for algorithms, B is for Boris, C is for CCEA results strife

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The UK is "the most successful political partnership in the world", according to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who visited Northern Ireland this week.

Inevitably, First Minister Arlene Foster agreed, whilst Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill begged to differ.

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Hume, Brexit and planning for NI's big birthday

John Hume Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption John Hume played a crucial role in helping to broker the IRA ceasefire of 1994

After a week dominated by memories of John Hume, the UK Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove dropped in to talk up the benefits of Brexit.

That's something which there's no doubt would have been complete anathema to the Europhile Nobel Peace Prize winner.

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John Hume: A lasting legacy and a place in history assured

John Hume pictured in 1985 Image copyright Pacemaker

In 2004 I was filming with John Hume in central Belfast as he canvassed during a European election.

In between handing out leaflets for the man he hoped would succeed him, the former SDLP leader got into a conversation with someone raising money for an international development charity.

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DUP mask and executive bill disputes provide food for thought

Ice cream cones Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A tweet of Sammy Wilson holding a cone at an ice cream parlour prompted responses from DUP colleagues

So you wait around for ages for a DUP split and then two come along at once.

The first - already the subject of copious amounts of analysis - came at the start of the week with the abstention of 11 MLAs on a bill which clarifies the power of individual Stormont ministers.

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Coronavirus: Differing opinions behind the mask

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Between now and 20 August the executive will embark on a publicity campaign to convince reluctant shoppers they ought to don a mask.

Suggested campaign slogans:

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Bobby Storey funeral: No prospect of Stormont falling

Bobby Storey's funeral on 30 June Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption No more than 30 people were allowed to gather for outside events on the day of Bobby Storey's funeral

"It cannot be business as usual". So said Arlene Foster rejecting Michelle O'Neill's non apology.

The deputy first minister expressed her sorrow if anyone felt hurt by the TV pictures of her and the rest of the Sinn Féin leadership paying farewell en masse to their friend and comrade, IRA veteran Bobby Storey.

Read full article Bobby Storey funeral: No prospect of Stormont falling