Fresh ‘golden handshake’ controversy for Council Chief

Sharon O'Connor
Sharon O'Connor

Fresh controversy has erupted over the £275,000 “golden handshake” paid to departing Derry City Council Chief Executive Sharon O’Connor as she prepares to take on a new publicly funded position.

Sharon O’Connor will become chair of Northern Ireland’s new education authority board the day after she formally steps down as chief executive of Derry City Council, a move heavily criticised by TUV Leader Jim Allister.

Mr Allister, who uncovered the appointment during his questioning of Education Minister John O’Dowd, said: “On Tuesday in the Assembly I exposed the fact that Education Minister John O’Dowd was about to appoint Sharon O’Connor as the chair of the Education and Skills Authority. As I pointed out Ms O’Connor has no background in education and therefore her appointment has raised eyebrows in certain quarters.

“Added to this, she recently received a £275K golden handshake when she recently left her position as Chief Executive of Derry City Council.

“It is scandalous that someone should receive such a sum upon leaving one publically funded job only to immediately walk into another well paid post funded by the public purse.

“I have therefore today tabled a question to the Environment Minister asking what measures are in place to claw back proportionately public ‘handshake’ payments to retiring Council Chief Executives who are then given other paid public appointments.”

The Department of Education has now confirmed the public appointment of Ms Sharon O’Connor to the post at the new Education Authority, which will be established formally on 1 April 2015.

The Education Authority will take over from the Western Education and Library Board and the other four ELBs in the north when they are disbanded next month.

Ms O’Connor has been appointed for the next four-year term at a salary of £50,000 plus travel and subsistence expenses.

A spokesman for the Department of Education has confirmed the appointment. He said: “Ms O’Connor has over 20 years’ experience as a Chartered Director, Non-Executive Director, Vice Chair, Committee Chair and Board Member and in 2009/10 was the Institute of Directors, Public Sector Director of the Year.

“Ms O’Connor has been Chief Executive of Derry City Council since 2011. Her contract with Derry City Council terminates on 31 March 2015.

Ms O’Connor has declared that she has not undertaken any political activity during the last five years. She currently holds one other public appointment as a Non-Executive Director of ILEX-URC for which she receives no remuneration.”