Shock £600k bill for suspended civil servants
Twenty-four civil servants currently suspended in Northern Ireland have been off work for a combined 855 weeks - the equivalent of 16-and-a-half years.
More than £600,000 has been paid out of the public purse during the suspensions.
The total bill came to £625,624, and includes wages, pension contributions and national insurance, which were all covered while the staff were suspended.
According to figures provided by Finance Minister Sammy Wilson, two administrative assistants have been suspended for a combined 112 weeks.
Three administrative officers have been sidelined for a further 71 weeks.
Three workers at Technical Grade 1 level have been off work for a total of 23 weeks while two staff officers have been suspended for another 19 weeks.
Fourteen others, employed at various pay grades, have been suspended for a combined 630 weeks - equivalent to nearly 12 years.
The information was obtained by East Londonderry SDLP MLA John Dallat in response to a written Assembly question.
Mr Dallat said cases should be dealt with more quickly rather than employees being paid for doing nothing.
"They have created a whole industry within the Civil Service of investigators and people who use up a lot of paper and spend a lot of time conducting inquiries," he said.
"It needs to be looked at, given the financial mess that we are in at the moment."
Mr Dallat, who is a member of Stormont's public accounts committee, said it was essential that the system became more efficient.
"There should be a way found to ensure that while workers' rights are protected, they are not kept dangling for one or two years because I am aware of civil servants who were given their jobs back again after they were suspended for the pettiest things," he said.
The minister said he could not provide a more detailed breakdown to protect the individuals' identities.
Last August Permanent Secretary Paul Priestly was suspended from the Department for regional Development.
His role in the Civil Service was downgraded to deputy secretary but he had still not been found a new post in June, the head of the Civil Service Sir Bruce Robinson said last month.
The action was taken after it emerged that Mr Priestly had helped draft a letter of complaint to the Stormont public accounts committee which was probing the department's handling of Northern Ireland Water.
Some 24 civil servants are currently suspended and have been off work for a combined 855 weeks. Their salary payments came to £489,630, national insurance contributions cost £38,148 while pensions contributions totalled £97,846. The total payout to the suspended employees was £625,624.