Madeleine Alessandri, the government’s deputy national security adviser, has been named the new permanent secretary in the Northern Ireland Office.
Alessandri will replace Sir Jonathan Stephens, who has been the head of the department since 2014 and will retire from the civil service early this year.
She is currently the prime minister’s adviser on national resilience and security as well as being deputy national security adviser. According to her GOV.UK profile, Alessandri joined government in 1988 and has held a wide variety of positions in the diplomatic service and in national security both in the UK and overseas.
Announcing her appointment, cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill said: “Madeleine is an exceptional public servant who embodies the very best that the civil service has to offer. With extensive experience in the diplomatic service and in the delivery of HM government priorities, she will be an excellent addition to the Northern Ireland Office at an important time.”
Alessandri, whose appointment was overseen by the first civil service commissioner Ian Watmore, said this was “a critical time to be joining the Northern Ireland Office as the hard work continues to restore devolved government at Stormont”.
Civil servants have effectively been running the country in the absence of ministers since a power-sharing agreement collapsed in 2017.
There will now be a handover period from Stephens to Alessandri to ensure a smooth transition of work to restore the devolved institutions at Stormont.
Alessandri added: “I am very much looking forward to joining the secretary of state and the great team at the NIO and working with a restored executive to create a stable, prosperous and safe Northern Ireland that works for everyone.”
Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith said Alessandri would “provide experienced leadership to the department at a critical time”.
Both Sedwill and Smith also thanked Stephens for his work in the department.
Speaking on behalf of the civil service, Sedwill thanked the outgoing chief “for his outstanding commitment and contribution to public service for over three decades, and particularly for his leadership of NIO over the last six years”.
Smith said Stephens had provided “sage advice and expertise” in his three decades in the civil service. “I wish him the best of luck in his retirement," he said.