Belfast Telegraph

3,500 oppose council chief pay-off: Facebook protest snowballs over Derry executive's £275k golden goodbye

By Joanne Sweeney

More than 3,500 people have now signed up to a Facebook page opposing Derry City Council's plans to pay its chief executive a severance package of £275,000.

The social media protest has snowballed since it first launched just under two weeks ago.

The Belfast Telegraph revealed the expected golden handshake on offer to outgoing Town Clerk and Chief Executive Sharon O'Connor on December 23.

The Facebook page's creator, Fergal Barr, claims Ms O'Connor has cost Derry's ratepayers £605,000 since she took over in November 2011 - or around £16,806 per month.

On Saturday, the Conservative Party said it intends to cap public sector redundancy pay-offs at £95,000 if it wins the general election in May.

Taxpayers should not have to fund "huge payouts when well-paid people get made redundant", Treasury minister Priti Patel said.

Ms O'Connor's pay-off is almost three times that amount.

Her departure from the council - a position she has held for just over three years - is expected to be ahead of the council's merger with Strabane District Council in April.

Ms O'Connor's severance deal has been worked out based on her 15 years' employment in local government. Although only three of these were in the city, it is Derry City Council that will pick up the entire cost.

Her pay-off was negotiated as a £165,500 redundancy payment and a pension plan of almost £110,758.

Mr Barr has sent a letter to the council detailing a bid to find out why the deal for Ms O'Connor was approved by the council.

The letter asks: "If she requested to leave, then surely she has decided she no longer wishes to work for Derry City Council and therefore a 'thank you and wish you the best in the future statement' would follow. No? Well, please explain."

A spokeswoman for Derry City Council has refused to comment on or confirm the figures involved, saying that the local authority "does not comment on individual staff matters". She added that, "in common with other councils, Derry City Council operates a standard severance package that applies to all employees".

Ms O'Connor, who is currently receiving a £110,000 annual package - £105,000 salary plus £5,000 towards rent - confirmed in December 2013 that she did not intend to apply for the chief executive position of the new Derry/Strabane super-council and that she would be leaving the council ahead of the merger. The top job in the new amalgamated council has now been accepted by former Derry City Council Strategic Director, John Kelpie.

Other councils are expected to provide similar severance packages to top officials who are not moving into positions with the newly formed councils.

Ms O'Connor previously told the Belfast Telegraph: "I can say that the figure in the media will not be a one-off payment, but it is a deal made up of a number of parts, including pension provision. This is based on my 15 years of employment with local government and is not just for the three years I have been with Derry City Council.

"It marks my departure from local government.

"It is taxable and it certainly will not mean that I can retire."

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