Northern Ireland

Sharon O'Connor to be Northern Ireland Education Authority chair

Sharon O'Connor
Image caption Sharon O'Connor is stepping down as chief executive of Derry City Council

The former chief executive of Derry City Council has been appointed to oversee Northern Ireland's new single education board.

Sharon O'Connor will be the first chair of the Education Authority, which takes over from the existing five education and library boards on 1 April.

It comes a day after she finishes work at the council.

The Education Authority aims to streamline services and save money by reducing duplication.

It will begin work on the same day that the 11 new 'super councils' replace the 26 old ones.

Ms O'Connor currently holds one other public appointment as a non-executive director of ILEX-URC, for which she receives no remuneration.

Plans for a more ambitious single Education and Skills Authority were abandoned last September after failing to secure cross-party support.

In the assembly on Monday, TUV leader Jim Allister asked Education Minister John O'Dowd of Sinn Féin if he was "playing the green card" by appointing Ms O'Connor.

Mr O'Dowd angrily objected to the question.

It followed an earlier exchange in the assembly between the two men, when Mr O'Dowd declined to confirm the name of the new chair as he was not completely sure that all appointments had been accepted.

Mr Allister asked the minister why he had decided to appoint someone whom he alleged had "no education background".

He said that on the day she left her existing post, she would get "a £250,000 golden handshake" and then walk into a public appointment.

Mr O'Dowd said he was satisfied that the appointments he had made, including that of the chair, were correct and met the criteria.

He said the person involved would be more than capable of carrying out a challenging role.

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