Former director of environment named new DAERA permanent secretary

A former civil service director of environment, Denis McMahon, has been appointed as the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs’ new permanent secretary.

Denis McMahon, who is currently the deputy secretary of the work and inclusion group in the Department for Communities, is set to replace DAERA’s current permanent secretary Noel Lavery.

He faces a challenging few years as the department faces potential cuts of up to £20 million (€22.9 million) from its budget in just two years.

According to BBC NI political editor Mark Devenport, Lavery will move to the Department for the Economy.

Track record

Denis McMahon has held the position at the Department for Communities for around 10 months. In 2009 he held the position of director of environment for the Department of Environment. This was a role he stayed in for just two years.

McMahon also previously has been the director of waste management in the same department and is also a former adviser on the Strategic Investment Board.

Denis McMahon
Denis McMahon pictured centre

He completed a PhD in Psychology before he joined the civil service in 1993 as a statistician.

Over his career he has led a number of projects including: a £5 billion investment programme in health; the reorganisation of the health and social service; a £200 million a year investment programme in Education; and the Programme for Government.

In 2000 he was awarded a Fullbright Fellowship and in 2007 he was the principal private secretary to the First Minister.


Current permanent secretary Noel Lavery has held the position since the department’s days as ‘DARD’. Lavery started the role in March 2013 and later became DAERA permanent secretary when the Department of Agriculture and Department of Environment merged in 2016.

He now leaves for the Department for the Economy.

Lavery joined the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) in 2001 becoming finance director in December of that year.

He was promoted to deputy secretary over DETI’s corporate services and business regulation directorate in 2003.

In 2009 he joined the office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, initially working on the devolution of justice and policing. He left that position to head up the Department of Agriculture.