‘Government is living and breathing transparency’: Chief Minister responds to criticism after resignations

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THE Chief Minister has said her government is ‘living and breathing openness and transparency’ following criticism surrounding the resignation of chief executive Suzanne Wylie – and denied that they had a fractious relationship.

Deputy Kristina Moore also said she was unaware of any rift within the Council of Ministers and that they were ‘committed to working together as a team’.

The Chief Minister is coming under increased pressure following the shock resignation of the Island’s most senior civil servant, who arrived in the Island just 13 months ago, amid growing speculation that a poor working relationship between her and other senior members of her Council of Ministers with Mrs Wylie led to her departure.

However, Deputy Moore said that Mrs Wylie’s resignation had come as a shock and that, despite being informed of her intention to step down last week, she was unable to reveal this until Wednesday when the chief executive formalised her intentions in writing.

Deputy Moore said: ‘I think we had a really positive and professional relationship. I certainly would not describe it as fractious.

‘Always there will be differing points of view on some occasions but on the whole we have worked together in a really professional way. We message each other regularly and we both have big and broad jobs that have worked together constructively.’

Deputy Moore confirmed that Mrs Wylie would be working her full notice period and that she was not receiving a pay-off.

During this week’s States sitting, Deputy Chief Minister Kirsten Morel – who was standing in for the Chief Minister after she was forced to leave the Chamber – told Members that he was not aware of any future further resignations following the departures of two senior Health staff.

Deputy Moore confirmed that, at that stage, she had not told Deputy Morel of Mrs Wylie’s intention to resign.

‘Suzanne informed [States Employment Board vice-chair] Andy Jehan and myself after last week’s Council of Ministers meeting and then the written confirmation came this week,’ she said.

‘Obviously these things take time because there are a number of different issues to deal with and Suzanne asked us to observe strictest confidentiality. We have a duty of care to all of our employees [and] confidentiality is really important.

‘If I had been able to stay in the Assembly to participate in questions without notice, if I had been asked the same question I would have said, “We have a large organisation and unfortunately people do resign from time to time”. One can never say definitively no – I wouldn’t have been able to have been drawn any further.’

The government, in announcing Mrs Wylie’s departure, said that she was returning to Belfast to be closer to her family.

Suzanne Wylie Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (35485407)

The Chief Minister said that she could not comment too much on Mrs Wylie’s reasons for leaving and that the news came as a shock.

‘We have been really shocked, disappointed and saddened by the news,’ Deputy Moore said. ‘Suzanne is a really popular person among staff and the Council of Ministers.’

She added: ‘I think it is purely circumstances, and obviously people’s lives can change and their priorities can change, and I think with great sadness I had to accept her resignation.’

Mrs Wylie has not commented publicly on her departure and there was no quote from her in the official government statement.

Responding to allegations from Deputy Lyndon Farnham that she had lacked transparency over the affair, Deputy Moore said that her ‘door is always open’ and she reiterated her commitment to having a ‘collaborative government’.

‘I think we are living and breathing openness and transparency,’ she said. ‘The public can see our commitment in terms of a different approach to communications.

‘The feedback and sense I get from the public is that they appreciate the different attitude of the current government and we’ll continue to do that.

‘Most people will understand that when it comes to confidential employment matters we have to respect our duty of care to those people. It is important that confidence can be kept but that is not to say we are not being open or transparent.’

And Deputy Moore said that the resignation is ‘clearly unconnected’ to the recent departures of director general for health Caroline Landon and chief nurse Rose Naylor and had nothing to do with the formation of the Cabinet Office. As one of her core priorities when taking office, Deputy Moore announced that the Office of the Chief Executive, the Chief Operating Office, and Strategic Policy, Planning and Performance were to be brought into a combined Cabinet Office.

The Chief Minister also moved to reassure Islanders that the public sector was ‘in good order’ and added: ‘What is for me really important is that we ensure there is ongoing stability and that we can find a pair of hands that has knowledge and love for the Island and people within the public service. I think stability is our common aim.

‘I think everyone will want to see a smooth transition and one that can deliver stability.’

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