Belfast Telegraph

Criticised ex-fire chief returns to £294-a-day job helping to choose judges

By Adrian Rutherford

A former fire chief who was criticised by a Stormont watchdog is back working as a lay magistrate - and is also helping to choose judges at a rate of £294 a day.

Eoin Doyle is resuming his roles after an investigation sparked by a damning Public Accounts Committee report last year.

He has been given the go-ahead to continue as a lay magistrate and is returning to a £294-a-day post on a panel which appoints judges and other officials within the judiciary.

Mr Doyle, a former Assistant Chief Fire Officer, had been accused of failing to properly handle significant conflicts of interest.

The Public Accounts Committee claimed he introduced an appeals process during a firefighter recruitment exercise which his son later benefited from. He was also accused of establishing arrangements which meant staff were instructed to claim excess payments, including overtime.

The Belfast Telegraph later revealed how Mr Doyle, who retired from the Fire Service last year, had been serving as a lay magistrate since 2005.

After the PAC published its report it emerged Northern Ireland's top judge, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, was considering whether Mr Doyle should continue to serve as a lay magistrate.

The Belfast Telegraph has learned Sir Declan's inquiry has been completed, and Mr Doyle will be returning to his role.

A spokesperson for the Lord Chief Justice's office said: "Following the Lord Chief Justice's consideration of the matters which arose on foot of the Public Accounts Committee report and other reports concerning the NI Fire and Rescue Service, Mr Doyle will be resuming the full range of duties in his post as a lay magistrate."

He will also be resuming his duties with the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission (NIJAC).

Mr Doyle was added to the commission last year on a part-time, four-year role.

He is part of a team involved in making appointments to senior judicial positions, including High Court judges. Members of the commission receive a daily remuneration of £294.

Mr Doyle temporarily stepped aside from judicial appointments, but has also resumed his role following the Lord Chief Justice's investigation.

A spokesperson said: "I can confirm that Mr Doyle has resumed his position in the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission."

Last October a report by the PAC on the Fire & Rescue Service criticised a number of senior fire officers, including Mr Doyle. It said Mr Doyle "failed to recognise and properly handle significant conflicts of interest in relation to procurement and recruitment".

The report said an appeals process had been introduced during a 2011 Fire Service recruitment exercise which resulted in the unfair treatment of some candidates and "potentially the advantageous treatment of others". It said Mr Doyle introduced the process without the approval of the Chief Fire Officer or Fire Service board, was also a member of the appeals panel, and his son was one of the initially unsuccessful candidates appointed following a successful appeal.

However, in a letter to the PAC Mr Doyle said he did not introduce the appeals process as a new process.

As soon as he became aware that his son was an applicant, Mr Doyle said he declared an interest and immediately withdrew from the appeal panel and the process.

He was also criticised over overtime and subsistence payments made to staff involved in the recruitment exercise.

Mr Doyle said the finance issues and the remuneration package were agreed in line with the Chief Fire Officer's instructions.

"It also was in strict compliance with the custom and practice for prearranged overtime," he told the committee.

He retired in May 2013 – before disciplinary proceedings could be taken.

Mr Doyle was added to the Judicial Appointments Commission last June, a month after retiring from the Fire Service.

His term runs from June 17, 2013 until June 14, 2018.

STORY SO FAR

Eoin Doyle, a former senior fire officer, has served as a lay magistrate since 2005.

The role of lay magistrates replaced the former functions of lay panellists in youth courts, family proceedings courts and criminal justice functions formerly held by justices of the peace.

Mr Doyle is one of five lay magistrates who sit on the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission. The body selects, recommends and appoints officials to judicial roles up to and including High Court judges.

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