Sue McAllister is new head of NI prison service

Sue McAllister and David Ford New director general of the Northern Ireland Prison service Sue McAllister with Justice Minister David Ford

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The Northern Ireland Prison Service has announced the appointment of a new director general.

Sue McAllister is the first woman to hold the most senior position within a prison service anywhere in the UK.

The 51-year-old mother-of-two will take up the post at the beginning of July and be paid an annual salary of £100,000.

She replaces Colin McConnell, who is leaving to take up a post as head of the Scottish Prison Service.

Mr McConnell announced his departure in March, after just over a year in the job.

Challenges

Mrs McAllister, oringally from south Yorkshire, has 25 years experience in the prison service, including working as a governor of both a prison and young offenders centre.

She is familiar with the challenges the she faces as she was part of a review team which produced a highly critical report on Northern Ireland Prison Service after the suicide of Colin Bell.

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

Justice Minister David Ford has welcomed Mrs McAllister's appointment.

"Sue joins the Northern Ireland Prison Service at a crucial stage of the reform programme," he said.

"She brings a wealth of experience to this demanding post and I know that she is committed to driving forward the change agenda."

Mrs McAllister said: "It is a great privilege to be appointed the Director General of the Northern Ireland Prison Service and to lead this proud service through a period of fundamental reform.

"I do not underestimate the scale of the reform programme that will be delivered over the next few years, one of the most challenging undertaken by the public sector anywhere in the United Kingdom."

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