Public appointments explained

A public appointment is generally an appointment, made by a government Minister, to the board of a public body. Public appointments in Northern Ireland cover everything from the arts to sport and consumer interests to more specialised areas, such as historic buildings and monuments.

Public bodies

Public bodies are organisations set up to manage, offer advice or deliver important and essential public services. While they are set up by government they work separately, at arm’s length from government.

Examples of public bodies include the NI Tourist Board, the Housing Executive, the Equality Commission, Health and Social Care Trusts and the Education Authority.

Most public bodies are managed by Boards of Directors. Most public appointments will be for member or chair positions on the board of a public body.

You can find out more about public bodies and access annual statistical reports at the link below.

Becoming a public appointee

Public appointments give people from all walks of life the chance to play a part in directing and managing the services that government provides.

There are many reasons to apply for a public appointment. You may want to:

  • get more involved in the community
  • develop your skills
  • gain experience
  • help improve public services

If you are already in employment, being a board member could give you training and development opportunities that your current employer can’t provide.

Your skills

Public bodies are looking for people with a diverse range of skills and experiences to fill appointments. You will bring your own qualities to the post, but you should also:

  • be committed to the work of the public body
  • have time to get involved
  • be confident and ask questions about the work of the body
  • be independent and look at how decisions can affect all sections of the community
  • have good communication skills; with the ability to listen and express your views
  • be able to negotiate and influence others
  • be able to work with all types of people

You don’t need to have gained these skills in your current or previous jobs. You could have gained them through volunteering in your local community, taking part in sports, getting involved with activities at your school or college, or in your personal life as a user of public services.

You don’t have to have a traditional career path or be involved in politics to apply. Some appointments require specialist knowledge and expertise, but many don’t. 

Find a public appointment vacancy.

Appointment process

When applying for a public appointment, you should keep in mind that:

  • all appointments are made on merit, based on your talents and skills
  • an independent assessor will be involved throughout
  • the skills and qualities necessary for the post will be made clear to you - either in the original advertisement or in an information pack
  • you will be asked to complete an application form
  • your application will be assessed to see if your skills and qualities meet those required for the post you are applying for - this may involve a formal ‘sift’ and then an interview
  • the minister will make the final selection from those recommended by the interview panel
  • the successful candidate will be sent a letter of appointment and all other candidates will be informed

You can find out more about applying for a public appointment at the link below.

Diversity and standards in public appointments

Government wants to encourage more people from different backgrounds, ages and communities to apply to become public appointees. 


Applications for public appointments are welcome from all parts of society. The aim is to have our public appointees broadly reflect the diversity of the people of Northern Ireland.

Executive Ministers are committed to improving diversity on the boards of public bodies.  As part of a package of measures to broaden involvement of under-represented groups in public life, they have set targets with an initial emphasis on achieving gender equality both in board membership and at chair level.

Qualities of a public appointee

As a public appointee you will be expected to behave appropriately and follow the seven principles of public life.

The seven principles of public life are listed below.


Holders of public office should act only in terms of the public interest.


Holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.


Holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias.                                


Holders of public office are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and be prepared for the necessary scrutiny necessary that allows this.      


Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent way. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.                    


Holders of public office should be truthful.


Holders of public office should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour. They should actively promote and robustly support the principles and be willing to challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs.

Being a board member

Your role as a board member will depend on the public body you work for. However, you will often be involved in:

  • providing leadership and direction; setting the organisation’s strategy and agreeing business plans to deliver that strategy
  • recruiting key staff
  • holding senior staff and managers to account on how the organisation is being managed, how business plans are delivered and how the budget is spent
  • representing the work of the organisation to key stakeholders and the wider public

You will also be expected to:

  • take part in board meetings regularly and be well prepared by reading relevant papers before meetings
  • take part in subcommittee meetings in areas such as audit and finance
  • take part in training events and keep up-to-date with the work of the organisation
  • take part in board discussions and decision making and share responsibility for those decisions
  • when required, represent the board at events
  • keep to the seven principles of public life and any relevant codes of conduct and accountability

Time and pay

Public appointments usually last from one to five years and may be renewed for a second term (up to a maximum of ten years).

Most public appointments are part-time and may vary from a few days a year to two to three days per month.

You may be eligible for time off work to carry out some of your duties as a public appointee. This depends on the appointment and your main job. Find out more at the link below.

Some public appointments will be paid but this will depend on the type of public body and appointment. Pay for public appointments will often be called ‘remuneration’. Travelling and other expenses are usually paid.

If the public appointment is paid, this may have an effect on your entitlement to benefits. This will depend on your individual circumstances, the type of benefit you receive and the appointment.

The Commissioner for Public Appointments

Most public appointments made by a government minister follow a selection process regulated by the Commissioner for Public Appointments.

The Commissioner’s job is to make sure appointments are made in a fair and open way. The Commissioner will also investigate complaints.  

You can find out more about the work of the Commissioner at the link below.

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