About the Department for Infrastructure

Part of: DfI management and structure

The Department’s purpose statement is:  'Every day connecting people safely, supporting opportunities and creating sustainable living places.'

DfI Infographic
DfI infographic

The Department for Infrastructure (DfI) is one of nine Northern Ireland Departments.  The main responsibilities of the Department are:

  • regional strategic planning and development policy
  • transport strategy and sustainable transport policy
  • public transport policy and performance
  • road safety and vehicle regulation policy, including strategies to reduce the number of people killed or seriously injured on our roads
  • driver and operator licensing and driver and vehicle testing
  • provision and maintenance of all public roads
  • certain policy and support work for air and sea ports 
  • river and sea defence maintenance and the construction of flood alleviation schemes
  • provision of flood maps and risk information
  • policy on water and sewerage services and management of the Department’s shareholder interest in Northern Ireland Water


The Department operates under the direction and control of the Minister for Infrastructure. Civil Servants are accountable to the Minister and the Minister is accountable to the Assembly.

The Permanent Secretary, Dr. Denis McMahon, is the Accounting Officer for the Department and the Minister’s principal adviser.

Departmental Board

The Departmental Board (the Board) provides corporate leadership to the organisation as a whole; takes responsibility for the Department’s performance; and provides support to the Permanent Secretary, who provides advice to the Minister.


The Board is chaired by the Permanent Secretary of the Department and he is responsible for the appointment of all the Board members and the appraisal of their performance.  Membership is normally determined on an ex officio basis and appraisal of these members is carried out through the Department’s Performance Management system. 

The other Executive members of the Board are the:

  • Deputy Secretary with responsibility for Climate, Planning and Public Transport;
  • Deputy Secretary with responsibility for Water and Departmental Delivery;
  • Deputy Secretary with responsibility for Transport and Road Asset Management;
  • Director of Governance, EU and Facilities Management; and
  • Director of Finance.

There are also two Non-Executive Board Members (NEBMs) effective from 4 January 2022.

As Chair of the Board, the Permanent Secretary is responsible for:

  • ensuring the Board fulfils its responsibilities;
  • ensuring that the business of Board meetings is conducted efficiently and effectively, that there is open debate and that all views are heard;
  • summing up Board debates and seeking agreed decisions;
  • controlling the order of Board meetings;
  • ensuring that systems are in place to provide Board members with accurate and timely information of good quality to allow the Board to consider properly all matters before it;
  • ensuring that a Board effectiveness review is performed annually with independent input as necessary, and that results are acted upon;
  • completing an annual performance appraisal review of each non-executive board member;
  • ensuring adherence to the comply or explain principle set out in  Corporate Governance Guidance;
  • disclosing all Ministerial Directions to the Board at the next meeting.

The Chair encourages all Board members to make full use of their skills and expertise in order to robustly challenge and thereby improve the standard of discussion in Board meetings. All Executive Board members are bound by the NICS Code of Ethics and all Board members are required to adhere to the Seven Principles of Public Life.

Executive Board Members

In their role as Executive Board Members, they are responsible for:

  • the development of strategy and for supporting the delivery of that strategy.  This includes taking steps to ensure that the business is prioritised and decisions implemented in accordance with the performance measures and outcomes set by the Board; 
  • notifying the Board of any matters that threaten the regularity, propriety or value-for-money with which the Department carries out its business; and
  • notifying the Board of any significant issues which may impact on the Department’s leadership, medium-term capability and significant risks to delivery of policy, along with mitigating actions taken.

The roles and responsibilities of each Executive Board Member have been agreed with the Permanent Secretary.  All Executive Board members are bound by the NICS Code of Ethics.

Non-Executive Board Members

The Department has two Non-Executive Board Members (NEBMs). Their role includes:

  • leading and participating fully in the formulation of business planning, strategy development and risk management;
  • monitoring the Department’s progress towards meeting agreed performance measures and outcomes;
  • using their experience to challenge and support the Board, acting corporately;
  • ensuring that the Board obtains and considers all appropriate information; and
  • providing external independent advice and expertise to inform the decision making process.

The NEBMs ensure all aspects of strategy and delivery of policy are scrutinised for effectiveness and efficiency.  In particular, the NEBMs should:

  • be involved in the monitoring of performance and progress of the Department, including the use of human and financial resources;
  • maintain a critical overview of the Department’s financial controls and procedures for assessing and managing risk, drawing on their  wider experience;
  • be involved also as members of the Departmental Audit and Risk Assurance Committee, and the Major Projects Committee.

NICS Strategic HR Business Partner

Recognising that HR functions for all NICS departments now rest with NICS HR, the board will ask the Department’s Strategic HR Business Partner to attend board meetings when relevant HR matters are to be discussed.


The Board will normally meet on a bi-monthly basis.  However, the Permanent Secretary may call an additional meeting of the Board in circumstances where need arises.  The Board maintains a work programme which is developed on a rolling basis.  It includes matters always dealt with by the Board; corporate management matters that are delegated but where the Board expects to receive reports for approval or decision as necessary; and the usual governance expenditure, risk management and performance reports for the Department and its Agency and ALBs. 

A minimum of four members must be present for the Board to be deemed quorate, at least one of whom should be a Non-Executive Board Member.

Members should attend Board meetings and committee meetings regularly, attend other events when required, and contribute to discussions.  Decisions should be taken both corporately and objectively, acting in the public interest in keeping with the Nolan principles of public life.

The Board and all Board sub-committee members are required to record in the Register of Interests any issues on which they might have a conflict of interest.  The Board as a whole will consider how such conflict of interests will be handled.  The latest register is available in the Publications section of this website.

The minutes of the Departmental Board are available in the Publications section of this website.


An Audit and Risk Assurance Committee has been established to operate in accordance with Department of Finance guidance - Audit and Risk Assurance Committee Handbook (NI).  The Committee is chaired by a Non-Executive Board Member, and is supported by another Non-Executive Board Member.  At least one committee member has recent and relevant financial experience.  The Departmental Audit and Risk Assurance Committee, on behalf of the Departmental Board will review, prior to publication, the draft Departmental report and accounts, including the governance statement.

The Board also has a Major Projects Committee in place.  This Committee is chaired by a Non-Executive Board Member and is supported by another Non-Executive Board Member.

The core groups

There are three core groups in the Department, one of which contains an executive agency - Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA).

Climate, Planning and Public Transport 

Responsible for:

  • Leadership of DfI Climate Response andmitigation (and production of DfI Climate Action Plan)
  • Planning Improvement programme and delivery
  • Updated and relevant planning and transport legislation
  • Enhanced public transport network (bus and rail) to support modal shift
  • Modernisation of DVA incl capital programmee
  • About DfI - Climate, Planning and Public Transport

Water and Departmental Delivery

Responsible for:

  • NI Water - delivery plan and oversight
  • Departmental Flood Risk Management
  • Living with Water
  • Water and Flood Risk Management capital programme
  • Contribution to Climate Change Agenda - Adaptation
  • Power of water decarbonisation projects
  • DfI delivery plan (incl data dashboard on water, transport
  • and planning)
  • Financial performance, budget, resource management
  • DfI Legislative programme incl EU Exit
  • Data and Learning programme
  • About DfI - Water and Departmental Delivery

Transport and Road Asset Management

Responsible for:

  • DfI Asset Management Strategy
  • Road Asset Development incl Active Travel and EV infrastructure
  • Road Asset Maintenance
  • DfI Capital Programme
  • DfI Infrastructure plan (carbon reduction)
  • Transport Strategy (roads, rail, public transport, ports and airports) incl Transport Sectoral Plan (carbon reduction)
  • About DfI - Transport and Road Asset Management

Role in relation to Arm’s Length Bodies

The Department has an important role in relation to the three following separate organisations which, while at arm’s length from the Department, have their own Corporate Governance arrangements.

Northern Ireland Water (NIW)

NIW is a Government Owned Company and the statutory water and sewerage undertaker operating at arm’s length from central government. The Minister is responsible for overall policy and legislation and sets strategic objectives through guidance. The actual delivery of water and sewerage services is, however, the responsibility of the Company, subject to regulatory oversight by the NI Authority for Utility Regulation and environmental regulators.

The Department monitors NIW’s business performance and engages with the Company Board, Chair and Executive Team on strategic and shareholder matters. DfI is responsible for paying customer subsidy to NIW, making loans for investment and agreeing the Company’s annual budget and operating plan. The Minister is also responsible for making appointments to the Board of NIW.

Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company (NITHC)

NITHC is a public corporation and the parent company of the publicly owned bus and rail companies in the region. These companies, Northern Ireland Railways, Ulsterbus and Citybus (trading as Metro) operate under the brand name of Translink. NITHC’s statutory duties are to manage public transport properties and to oversee the activities of Translink.

We provide financial assistance to Translink as part of the Executive’s investment in public transport here, in line with the Transport Act 2011. We are also responsible for setting specific targets for NITHC and monitoring the extent to which these targets are achieved. Furthermore, we are also responsible for ensuring that appropriate financial and management controls are in place and that compliance with those controls is effectively monitored. The Minister is responsible for appointing the Chair and members of the NITHC Board.

NI Drainage Council

The NI Drainage Council is a non-Departmental Public Body which carries out a general scrutiny on the drainage functions of the Department.  It has a statutory duty to ensure uniformity of treatment of drainage throughout Northern Ireland.  It is the responsibility of the Drainage Council to designate watercourses and sea defences to be maintained at public expense.  Over 6,800 km of watercourses and 26 km of sea defences have been designated since the Council was established in 1947.  The Department uses powers in the Drainage Order to carry out maintenance and to deliver capital schemes as resources permit.  

The Council has no budget.  It is supported by a secretariat provided by Rivers Agency which adheres to the Department’s governance processes and procedures.

Role in relation to North/South Bodies

Waterways Ireland

The Department is also the sponsor department in Northern Ireland for Waterways Ireland which is the Cross-Border Body responsible for the management, maintenance, development and restoration of operational waterways throughout the island of Ireland.

Role in relation to the Northern Ireland Trust Ports

The Department is also responsible for ports policy and the legislative framework within which ports operate in Northern Ireland.

There are five commercial ports in Northern Ireland – four Public Trust Ports (Belfast, Londonderry, Warrenpoint and Coleraine) and one in private ownership (Larne). Public Trust Ports are autonomous, self-financing statutory bodies whose constitutions are set out in legislation. They operate on a commercial basis with the profit generated by their activities reinvested to improve their facilities.

The Department appoints the Chair and members of the trust ports at Belfast, Londonderry and Warrenpoint. 

Belfast Harbour Commissioners

Belfast Harbour Commissioners are responsible for the improvement, maintenance and management of the port of Belfast and the accommodation and facilities therein. The Commissioners are empowered to do so under the Belfast Harbour Order (NI) 2002.

Londonderry Port & Harbour Commissioners

Londonderry Port & Harbour Commissioners are responsible for the improvement, maintenance and management of the port of Londonderry and the accommodation and facilities therein. The Commissioners are empowered to do so under the Londonderry Harbour Order (NI) 2002.

Warrenpoint Harbour Authority

Warrenpoint Harbour Authority is responsible for the improvement, maintenance and management of the port of Warrenpoint and the accommodation and facilities therein. The Commissioners are empowered to do so under the Warrenpoint Harbour Authority Order (NI) 2002.

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