THE resignation of government chief executive Suzanne Wylie should be viewed as an ‘own goal’ and a ‘poor reflection of the support made available to her’, a minister has said in a sharp critique of Chief Minister Kristina Moore’s leadership.
Infrastructure Minister Tom Binet described a ‘tense and less-than-happy atmosphere’ behind the scenes at Broad Street and that witnessing the route to Suzanne Wylie’s departure had been ‘like watching a slow-motion car crash’.
He added that the government had been ‘disingenuous’ by suggesting that her resignation was due to family reasons.
The announcement of Mrs Wylie’s shock resignation has been met with widespread concern and criticism has been levelled at Deputy Moore over the timeline of events.
It has been confirmed that the chief executive informed the Chief Minister of her decision late last week, but the news was not made public until Wednesday – a day after Deputy Moore had been due to take questions without notice in the States Assembly.
During the States sitting, Deputy Chief Minister Kirsten Morel – who stepped in to cover Deputy Moore after she was forced to leave the Chamber – said that he was not aware of any further resignations in the senior ranks of the civil service following the announcement that director general for health Caroline Landon and chief nurse Rose Naylor are to leave their roles at the end of this month.
Two members of the States Employment Board – which oversees government employment matters – confirmed that they had not been told prior to the public announcement and Deputy Binet revealed that he had found out from the Island’s media before he and other members of the Council of Ministers had been informed.
The official reason – given in a government statement – for Mrs Wylie’s departure was that she was returning to Belfast to be closer to her family.
In an interview with the JEP on 11 February, Mrs Wylie said: ‘We, as a family, have established ourselves here. My kids come and go from here and my husband is here, retired with the two big dogs. This is where family life rotates around.’
Deputy Binet said: ‘I think it is disingenuous to expect the public to believe the story that she is going back to be closer to family. Clearly, she had committed herself to the Island for the foreseeable future.
‘Whatever else may be said by others, I have a duty to the people that voted for me – and to Suzanne Wylie – to state what I believe to be the case.
‘I am happy to be led by someone else and I want to see a collaborative approach but, if things aren’t right, they have to be called out.
‘I don’t share in the Chief Minister’s view that we should see this as an opportunity. Rather, we should view this as an own goal and a lost opportunity to build on 12 months’ knowledge and good work.’
Deputy Binet added that more power was held by some than others, and, sitting on the periphery, last week’s events did not come as that much of a surprise.
‘We have lost somebody who is, in my view, a first-class, dedicated, easy-to-work-with chief executive,’ he said. ‘She is a real asset to this government and to the Island and more than capable of making a significant contribution to resolving the many problems created by the Parker regime.
‘In these circumstances, somebody in her position needed support, understanding, assistance and a happy working environment. In my view, some of these requirements were in short supply.’
Mrs Wylie was appointed in September 2021 and formally began in the role in February the following year. Her predecessor, Charlie Parker, had been a divisive figure owing to his controversial ‘OneGov’ change programme, the fact he had received full housing qualifications when being appointed and his decision to accept a second job as non-executive director with a UK-based real estate firm – the fallout from which ultimately led to his resignation as chief executive.
Deputy Binet added: ‘In a private business, the loss of someone of this calibre would have serious consequences and questions would need to be answered and practices need to be changed.’