Civil servant who ran Stormont during power-sharing collapse knighted

The recently retired head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, David Sterling, has been given a knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

Sterling, who found himself running Northern Ireland in the midst of Stormont's power-sharing crisis, has been honoured for services to government.

The 62-year-old said he was "humbled" and saw the honour as recognition of the whole organisation's work during a three-year period without elected ministers in office. The father-of-two, who was a civil servant for 42 years, added: "When I think back and look at the enormity of the challenge, it would have been overwhelming if I had known in early 2017 that it was going to last for over two and a half years.

"I think what made it easier to cope with was the fact that, certainly in the early days, the expectation was always that the executive was going to be back reasonably soon."

The retired civil service boss said he is "very honoured" at becoming a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath.

"I will still be David," he said. "It is a great honour but the idea of being Sir David sits slightly uncomfortably on my shoulders. So I'll not be making a big deal of it."

Over 100 people in Northern Ireland have been recognised by the Queen, many for their efforts during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The list was postponed from June in order to include people such as medical workers, fundraisers and volunteers who have been instrumental in the Covid-19 effort, with the Cabinet Office stating more than 4,000 nominations were received since May. A virologist who dramatically scaled up sample testing, and a healthcare worker who led the retraining of nurses in delivering oxygen are among those also named in the list. A bus driver who helped keep public transport running and a St John Ambulance volunteer are also lauded. Virologist Dr Conall McCaughey, 59, was involved in boosting the number of samples analysed in laboratories from eight a day in February to 1,500 now.

Dr Conall McCaughey has been awarded an OBE for services to Laboratory Testing during Covid-19. Credit: PA

"We were doing things in days that would normally take weeks, and in weeks that would normally take six months," he said. "It has been stressful and also really quite affirming that the system can actually do big things quickly, and bigger things faster, than any of us that work in the system have ever seen or thought possible." Dr McCaughey, from Downpatrick, Co Down, who works for Belfast Health & Social Care Trust, is made an OBE for services to laboratory testing during the emergency. NHS worker Caroline Lee, who helped train nurses in managing deteriorating patients during Covid-19 care, said she is "humbled" at being made an MBE for services to healthcare. "With anything in health it is never one person, for this it is not one person, it is the whole team," she said. "We worked as one to be as responsive and agile as we possibly could. "They were right behind me in everything that I said we would do." St John Ambulance volunteer Adrian Petticrew said he wants his OBE to shine a light on the work of all his colleagues during the emergency. The 53-year-old, from Banbridge, Co Down, has been involved with the charity since he was 10, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. Lloyd Creaney and his wife Ruth, from Hillsborough in Co Down, used their graphic design skills to make face shields for Craigavon Area Hospital staff, among others. They were shielding for health reasons and could not leave home but a crew of volunteer bikers organised deliveries. They receive the British Empire Medal for services to key workers. Mr Creaney said: "We just felt like we did our bit, really." Others from Northern Ireland honoured are golfer Rory McIlroy's juvenile coach, who allowed him to sign up for Holywood Golf Club when he was three years under age. Eddie Harper, who receives the British Empire Medal, recalled: "He assured me he knew all the rules of golf and would not annoy people." Alan Snoddy, the World Cup finals referee from Co Antrim, is made an MBE for services to football.