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Fire bosses overpaid by £50,000 can keep money

By Noel McAdam

Stormont chiefs have written off more than £50,000 paid by mistake to senior bosses of the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service, it can be revealed.

Health Minister Michael McGimpsey ordered the money to be recouped after the blunder — revealed in the Belfast Telegraph — was discovered last year.

But now the minister, whose portfolio includes public safety, has allowed the board of the NI Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) to record the payments to three top directors as a loss.

The top three civilian officials — director of finance Terry McGonigal, director of planning and corporate affairs Doros Michail and human resources director Ann Conley — received a total of £50,840 between them.

Finance Minister Sammy Wilson has expressed concern at the error, which has also been condemned by the chair of the health and public safety scrutiny committee of the Assembly, Jim Wells.

“It was a serious mistake in the first place and it is equally serious that the department has not been able to get this money back,” the DUP MLA said.

“This is the equivalent of two nurses’ salaries, which may not sound like much, but day after day we are being forced to scrimp and save in so many areas of the health service.

“The minister issued an order in this case, but it seems he did not have the power to get the money back. Mechanisms and procedures must now be put in place to ensure this never happens again.”

Mr Wells said he also felt there was a moral obligation on the part of the Directors to voluntarily pay the money back. NIFRS said it did not wish to respond.

A NIFRS spokesman said its board had obtained legal advice in order to recover the “irregular” payment. “The NIFRS Board concluded that, on the basis of the legal advice, it would not be possible or represent value for money to recover the payments through legal proceedings.”

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