Leo O’Reilly was appointed Permanent Secretary in the Department for Communities (DfC) in May 2016. This new department has been created following decisions by the Northern Ireland Executive to restructure and reduce the number of government departments from 12 departments to 9. The new department’s functions cover a wide range of activities and responsibilities including:
- the promotion of a healthy housing and the provision of decent, affordable, sustainable homes and housing support services
- a social welfare system including focused support to the most disadvantaged areas
- providing training and support to jobseekers and employers
- bringing divided communities together by creating urban centres which are sustainable, welcoming and accessible to live, work and relax in peace
- supporting local Government to deliver effective public services
- maximising public benefits from the culture, arts and leisure sectors
- tackling disadvantage and promoting equality of opportunity by reducing poverty, promoting and protecting the interests of children, older people, people with disabilities, and other socially excluded groups; addressing inequality and disadvantage
The department employs some 8,500 staff and has an annual budget of almost £7 billion, including expenditure of £5.9 billion on social security and pension payments.
The primary role of the Permanent Secretary is to ensure the effective management of the department’s operations and to provide strategic advice to the Minister on departmental policy making and implementation activities. The Permanent Secretary is also the Principal Accounting Officer for the Department which carries with it responsibility for ensuring the regularity and propriety of departmental expenditure, for promoting value for money and for ensuring there are robust systems of corporate governance and financial control within the Department.
Prior to May 2016 Leo had been Permanent Secretary in the Department of the Environment (DOE) since August 2009. During that period, the DOE undertook the reform and reorganisation of local government in Northern Ireland including a reduction in the number of councils from 26 to 11 and the transfer of new roles and responsibilities from departments to councils. The DOE was also responsible for all planning matters in Northern Ireland, including planning policies, area planning and the determination of all planning applications. During the period the department undertook a major reform of the planning system, leading to the transfer of most planning functions to the new councils in April 2015. The Department was also responsible for environment and heritage policies and the delivery of related programmes and enforcement activities through Northern Ireland.
Before joining the DOE, Leo had been Permanent Secretary in the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) since October 2007 where his responsibilities included the strategic planning, management and control of public expenditure in Northern Ireland and Human Resource policies and practices for the NI Civil Service.
Leo had previously held a number of other posts in DFP since 1997 when he joined the Department as Head of Equal Opportunities and Appointments Division. He was subsequently Head of European Division and Budget Director in the Department. Prior to joining DFP, Leo had worked for 15 years in the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) where he held a variety of posts, including latterly Director of Personnel and Director of Finance in the NI Prison Service.