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First female NI prison service boss announces retirement

Director General for Northern Ireland Prison Service Sue McAllister who has announced her retirement with former Justice Minister David Ford who appointed her to the post in 2012.

 FuirTHE first woman to head up the Northern Ireland Prison Service has announced she is to retire after just four years in the post.

Sue McAllister has been responsible for overseeing radical reform of the troubled Northern Ireland Prison Service.

The 55-year-old who from south Yorkshire, had previously served as a governor of both a high security English prison and young offenders centre.

A recruitment competition will be launched next month for her successor.

When she was appointed by the former Justice Minister David Ford in 2012 the north's prison service was in deep crisis.

The previous Director General Colin McConnell, left to take up a post as head of the Scottish Prison Service, after just over a year in the job.

Prior to that Robin Masefield had headed up the prison service since 2004.

At the time of Mrs McAllister's appointment a redundancy package to retire older members of the service and bring in a more representative workforce was underway.

Her appointment was welcomed with Mr Ford citing her experience and familiarity with the challenges of the troubled service as she was part of a review team which produced a highly critical report after the suicide of prisoner Colin Bell.

Mr Bell he took his own life in Maghaberry Prison in July 2008. He was on suicide watch at the time.

However, her four years at the helm were not without controversy. There was speculation she would be forced to step down last year after a damning inspection report found Maghaberry to be one of the most dangerous prisons in Europe.

Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons in England and Wales Nick Hardwick described it as a "very worrying and disturbing public institution" and said Charles Dickens could write about Maghaberry "without batting an eyelid".

However, at the time Mrs McAllister said she was committed to seeing through a programme of reforms to modernise the system.

A failure to solve the ongoing dispute with protesting republican prisoners in Maghaberry has also marred her time in charge of the service.

During her time in charge two prison officers were murdered by dissident republicans.

Announcing her retirement she said paid tribute to her murdered colleagues.

"The murders of David Black and Adrian Ismay were despicable and an attack on the whole community. Both came as a tremendous shock and I want to pay tribute to their families, friends and colleagues.

"Working in prisons in Northern Ireland is different and I have always been hugely impressed by the courage, professionalism and dedication of my colleagues.

"It has been a great privilege to lead the Prison Service over the past four years. When I became Director General my focus was to lead the transformational reform envisaged in the Prison Review Report.

"With the conclusion of the reform programme in March, my role has come to a natural end and the time is right for a new Director General to lead the Service", she said.

Justice Minister Claire Sugden said: "The Prison Service plays a vital role in the justice system and Sue can be proud of what she has achieved in her time as Director General."

Alliance Leader David Ford who appointed Mrs McAllister said: "While every prison service has its problems, the Northern Ireland Prison Service is in a much better position than when she started and that is a tribute to her. I wish her every success in future."

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