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Senior civil servant Sue Gray leaving NI for Cabinet Office Union post


Department of Finance permanent secretary Sue Gray

Department of Finance permanent secretary Sue Gray

Department of Finance permanent secretary Sue Gray

One of Northern Ireland's top civil servants is departing to lead the UK Government's efforts to strengthen the Union.

Department of Finance Permanent Secretary Sue Gray will become the Cabinet Office's Second Permanent Secretary, leading on the Union and the Constitution.

She recently applied to become Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS), but missed out on the role, with nobody appointed.

Mrs Gray previously worked in the Cabinet Office from 1998 and served as the Director General, Propriety & Ethics from 2012-2018.

During this time she gained a reputation as one of the most influential civil servants in all of the UK.

She joined the Department of Finance in May 2018 after the collapse of the Assembly in January of the previous year.

Mrs Gray said she was "chuffed" to be appointed to the new role and would remain "fully engaged with Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales".

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"Big challenges ahead and I am ready to get started," she said, ahead of taking up the post later this month.

Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson said Mrs Gray's departure was "Northern Ireland's loss"

He said she could have been an "excellent" head of the NICS and that there would be a "massive void in her leaving our public sector".

"Thank you Sue for all you have done here," the East Antrim MLA said.

Mrs Gray was one of several candidates who applied to replace the outgoing Sir David Sterling last year.

However, First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill failed to identify an agreed candidate.

In November former Utility Regulator Chief Executive Jenny Pyper was appointed as interim head of the organisation. Her time in the role is set to expire at the end of July.

The role is currently being readvertised with a salary of between £160,563 and £188,272. Applications close on April 15.

Mrs Gray's new Cabinet Office role was recommended as part of the Dunlop Review, set by up by then-Prime Minister Theresa May in 2019 to ensure Government departments worked together on devolution.

Published last month the report advised establishing a new cabinet position for "intergovernmental and constitutional affairs" which would give union issues "greater visibility".

It also said the minister in the role would have "a duty to uphold the integrity of the constitution".

Mrs Gray has local family connections to Northern Ireland and lived here in the 1980s, where she ran The Cove pub outside Newry with her husband Bill Conlon, a country and western singer from Portaferry.

During her previous spell in the Cabinet Office she won praise for her role adjudicating on whether rules have been broken by officials, ministers and special advisers and guided successive UK Governments through crises.

Her role also involved overseeing Cabinet reshuffles, signing off politicians' memoirs, and vetting potential honours recipients.

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