FIVE of Northern Ireland's most senior civil servants have reportedly been interviewed for Stormont's top job.
Interviews took place last Wednesday as part of the process to replace David Sterling, who retired yesterday. He has been head of the Civil Service since July 2017.
The Irish News revealed last month that Department of Finance permanent secretary Sue Gray and her Department of Justice counterpart Peter May were thought to be among those competing for the post.
Yesterday it was reported in the News Letter that Richard Pengelly, Denis McMahon, and Hugh Widdis were also among those being interviewed along with "at least one external candidate".
Ms Gray currently serves as the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Finance, but before that she served for 20 years in the Cabinet Office as the Director-General of the Propriety and Ethics Team and Head of Private Offices Group in the Cabinet Office
Mr May was announced as the Department of Justice’s (DoJ) new permanent secretary in September 2018, switching from the same role within the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) and taking up his third permanent secretary position.
Mr Pengelly was appointed as the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health in July 2014, having served in the role at Department for Regional Development (DRD) now the Department of Infrastructure.
Mr McMahon serves as Permanent Secretary for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and Mr Widdis is head of the Government Legal Service - the Departmental Solicitor.
The First Minister and deputy First Minister have the final say on who is appointed. A second round of interviews for the £160,000-£188,000-a-year post is believed to be scheduled for mid-September.
Mr Sterling, whose civil service career has spanned more than four decades, is also Permanent Secretary of the Executive Office and Secretary to the Northern Ireland Executive and Ms Foster and Ms O'Neill's most senior advisor.
In December he announced his intention to retire "at the end of August" after more than three years in the post which he described as "among the most challenging and difficult in the history of the Northern Ireland Civil Service".
"We have found ourselves in the unique situation of working without ministerial direction to keep public services running and deliver the best possible outcomes for our people at a time of unprecedented challenge.
"The enormity of the task has put significant pressure on the NICS and I am proud of the way we have responded."