Stormont names shake-up evokes TV comedy gold

By Gareth Gordon
BBC News NI Political Correspondent

image captionThe process of reducing and renaming government departments at Stormont evoked memories of classic TV comedy shows like Yes Prime Minister

The Cabinet Office conjures up images of Whitehall, pin-striped suits and real life Sir Humphreys.

It is also, according to a document seen by the BBC, the title Peter Robinson at one point suggested for the re-naming of Northern Ireland's Office of the First and Deputy First Minister.

In the end, Mr Robinson and his colleagues settled on the slightly less grandiose title of the Executive Office.

Ministers have finally signed off on the names of the nine new Stormont departments that will replace the existing twelve.

'Unexpectedly hilarious'

They did so with surprising unanimity.

According to a source, the process was "extremely consensual."

"It was unusual in that no party politics were at play," added the source.

"The names were discussed entirely on their own merit."

image copyrightPeter Hamill
image captionA document in which Peter Robinson suggested re-naming the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister as the Cabinet Office

Most debate was over what they would call the new department which will see the Department of Agriculture amalgamated with some of the functions of the existing Department of Environment.

Under the plan originally drawn up by the head of the Civil Service, it would have been known as the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Development.

Under a second draft the name was simplified to the Department of Agriculture.

This brought resistance from those who wanted the environment name retained.

One minister proposed a compromise with unexpectedly hilarious consequences - he wanted it known as the Department of Nature.

'Monty Python moment'

Until that is, someone pointed out that staff may be deemed to be "naturists."

An insider referred to it as a "Monty Python moment".

The nature name was therefore stripped of all credibility.

image captionA Stormont insider compared one minister's proposal to create a new Department of Nature to a sketch out of Monty Python's Flying Circus'

They reverted to the more prosaic Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.

Elsewhere the simplification brigade got its way. The other new departments will be:

  • Department for Communities
  • Department for the Economy
  • Department of Education
  • Department of Health
  • Department for Infrastructure
  • Department of Justice
  • Department of Finance

The first minister will make a statement on the changes to the Northern Ireland Assembly on Monday.

And not a naturist or cabinet minister will be in sight.

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