Belfast Telegraph

Row erupts over £91,000 pay-off to failed water chief

By Adrian Rutherford

A £91,000 pay-off to Northern Ireland Water boss Laurence MacKenzie was his minimum legal requirement and not a golden handshake, it has been claimed.

The Department for Regional Development said it sought legal advice before agreeing to pay Mr MacKenzie six months’ salary — plus another £6,000 for legal and accountancy fees.

It came amid growing anger over the huge severance package paid to the former chief executive, who resigned earlier this month in the wake of the water shortage crisis.

SDLP MLA Conall McDevitt, who obtained details of the severance deal in an Assembly question, said Mr MacKenzie had profited from losing his job.

“Most people, when they lose their job, are seriously out of pocket,” he said.

“Mr MacKenzie appears to have made quite a tidy sum out of losing his job.”

Mr McDevitt had asked Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy to outline the severance package paid after Mr MacKenzie resigned on January 5.

In his written response, Mr Murphy said: “I have been advised by NI Water that the amount to be paid to its former CEO is £91,000 in respect of six months’ salary.

“In addition, NIW has agreed to contribute £3,000 towards his legal fees and a further £3,000 towards tax adviser’s fees.”

Mr McDevitt said people would be shocked by the severance package.

“Following Mr MacKenzie’s announcement to resign, the minister said on several occasions that he would not support any large payout, yet it appears from the figures released to me that Mr MacKenzie got his full contractual entitlement,” he added.

“Many who are on a few weeks’ or a month’s notice will be gobsmacked to hear that Mr MacKenzie got a full six months’ salary as he walked out the door.

“£91,000 is a huge sum of money for the vast majority of people. It would pay for quite a few call handlers or engineers at NIW. As it is, this is money down the drain.”

The South Belfast representative also called on the minister to clarify why NI Water had paid £6,000 for legal and tax advice.

TUV leader Jim Allister said there were many unanswered questions, including why Mr MacKenzie was not dismissed, which would have prevented any payout.

In a statement, a DRD spokesperson said the payment to Mr MacKenzie “is not a golden handshake”.

“The minister sought legal advice on the details of the arrangements put in place by the board of NI Water on acceptance of Laurence MacKenzie's resignation to satisfy himself that this was the minimum contractual entitlement,” it said.

“The legal advice confirmed that the six months pay in lieu of notice was the minimum contractual entitlement.”

Mr MacKenzie had been heavily criticised over NI Water’s handling of the burst pipes crisis, when some customers were left without water for up to a fortnight.

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