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Gap of seven days that made human resources chiefs ask for legal advice

By Donna Deeney

Published 01/04/2015

A discrepancy in the date the former chief executive of Derry City Council took up her position and the date she left a similar job with Down District Council forced the council Human Resources Department to seek legal advice before agreeing to pay out on a redundancy package worth more than £270,000.

The gap of seven days between October 16, 2011, when Ms O'Connor left Down District Council and October 24, 2011, when she officially began work with Derry City Council, 'continuity' of her local authority service had 'been broken', according to legal advice sought by the HR Department.

Legal advisers also suggested that if Derry City Council decided not to bridge this gap in her service, it left itself open to Ms O'Connor taking a legal challenge against it, which the legal company "believe council's ability to successfully defend is no higher than 50/50".

This legal advice was the subject of a report by the Interim Head of HR at the council at a confidential meeting with the heads of the political parties represented on the council. It was agreed to pay a redundancy package to Ms O'Connor based on 14 years' service and the matter was rubber-stamped by the then shadow Derry City and Strabane District Council. The Belfast Telegraph posed a series of questions to Derry City Council about the length of her service, the legal advice on the redundancy package and how it was passed by the new council.

The council refused to answer any of these questions and would only issue a statement which read: "Council will not make any public comment in relation to any individual employees or their employment with council.

"Council advises that all such matters are handled within council policies and that whilst no direct comment will be made relating to any one employee, for the avoidance of any doubt, council can clarify that no enhancements have been awarded over and above clearly defined entitlements."

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