Northern Ireland

Prison service boss to step down after a year

Colin McConnell
Image caption Colin McConnell has been in the job for just over a year

The director general of the Northern Ireland Prison Service is leaving his post after just over a year in the job.

Colin McConnell is to take over as chief executive of the Scottish Prison Service at the end of May.

Mr McConnell - who is originally from Scotland - was tasked with leading a radical reform of the prison service.

This includedrecruiting 200 new personnelto replace the more experienced staff taking a special redundancy package.

Mr McConnell's departure was officially announced on Tuesday.

He said the programme of reform was irreversible and that a huge response to a recruitment drive for 200 jobs showed confidence in the future of the prison service.

"As of today I can tell you that for those 200 vacancies we've towards 5,000 applications from right across the community representing all aspects of the community, looking to come forward and work in the prison service," he said.

"I'm not surprised, because the Northern Ireland Prison Service has a bright future."

Justice Minister David Ford said that Mr McConnell had made a significant contribution to the prison reform programme and wished him well in his new post.

"He has successfully implemented important projects in the initial phase of the reform programme, including the launch of the exit scheme and recruitment campaign and developed new working patterns for a more efficient and effective prison service," he said.

'Difficult time'

The chair of the assembly's justice committee, DUP MLA Paul Givan, told Good Morning Ulster that he was shocked by Mr McConnell's departure.

"He was heralded as the new director-general who would take forward the radical reform programme that David Ford has made his priority.

"Negotiations are at a very sensitive point with staff representatives over new shift patterns and practices, and an estates review is imminent.

"He has also presided over this exit package which the majority of staff, almost 400, have been demoralised over because they expected to leave and haven't been able to leave.

"He's leaving the service at a very difficult and challenging time."

The committee's vice-chair, Sinn Fein's Raymond McCartney, said that he was also surprised by Mr McConnell leaving.

"It's incumbent on the minister to find a replacement as soon as possible.

"The most important thing is that the structure now in place to radically reform the prison service remains intact.

"What we need now is someone to come in to replace Colin McConnell and drive the reform package forward."

Mr McConnell took up his post in January 2011.

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