A slow-burning crisis: Executive relations and the normalisation of distrust in Northern Ireland's ‘cash for ash’ fiasco

Charis Rice, Bernadette Connaughton, Jenny Ratcliffe, Ian Somerville

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This paper explores relationships between ministers, special advisers, and civil servants through the lens of a high-profile government crisis in Northern Ireland. Although political-administrative relationships are a mainstay of public administration research, we still have limited understanding of how these relationships feature and function within the ‘Westminster family’ of governance when operating within devolved institutions or post-conflict societies, nor of their role in crisis. We use Scott’s (2001) institutional pillars as an analytical framework and conduct a documentary analysis of public inquiry witness statements to explore the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) crisis which led to the collapse of the Northern Ireland legislature. Utilising a novel application of existing theory, we demonstrate that the implementation of the devolved, consociational power-sharing model incubated new governance norms, that prioritised and legitimised the agendas and actions of political actors (ministers and special advisers), over civil servants. Specifically, in understanding how relational norms – particularly distrust – feed public policy failure and institutional crisis, our findings contribute to this research area and to the broader public administration field. Government institutional crisis negatively impacts upon public service delivery and the wider health of democracy. Understanding such crises is an important first step in their amelioration.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)(In-Press)
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Review of Administrative Sciences
Early online date30 Jul 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 30 Jul 2023

Bibliographical note

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/) which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access page (https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/open-access-at-sage).


  • administration and democracy
  • civil service
  • distrust
  • Northern Ireland
  • crisis
  • relational norms


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