About DfI - Permanent Secretary, Dr. Denis McMahon

Part of: DfI management and structure

Dr Denis McMahon joined the Department for Infrastructure as the Permanent Secretary and Departmental Accounting Officer on 1 September 2023.


The Permanent Secretary of the Department for Infrastructure is the Minister's principal adviser across the full range of their Ministerial responsibilities.

In terms of the Department's corporate governance arrangements the Permanent Secretary acts as Head of Department and chair of the Departmental Board, as well as being the Accounting Officer.

Career history

Denis has personally led a series of major organisations and programmes including: multi-billion programmes in capital investment for the Department of Health and Department of Education; the reform of benefits and the anti-poverty strategy in the Department for Communities, leading 7,000 staff; the last Permanent Secretary in the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure; Permanent Secretary in the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, re-focusing a Department of 3,000 people on sustainability, while leading through the global pandemic and EU Exit and achieving a record 14 point increase in staff engagement over three years. In 2021 Denis took up the role of Permanent Secretary in The Executive Office where the focus was on improving wellbeing for all, including work on Racial Equality, support for Ukrainian Refugees and wider Good Relations.

Denis is also the Head of the Policy Profession for the NICS and has established a NICS Policy Community with an open membership to allow everyone to input into this key area of Government work.

Denis completed a PhD in Psychology at Queen’s University Belfast in 1992 before entering the Civil Service as a statistician. He completed a Fulbright Fellowship in 2000, was Principal Private Secretary for the First Minister in 2007 and completed the Major Projects Leadership Academy qualification in 2019 with Oxford University and the Major Projects Authority.

The Department

The Department for Infrastructure is made up of approximately 3,000 people who are industrial, professional and technical staff, engineers, planners, policy makers and administrators. DfI industrial and technical staff design, build, maintain and repair roads, bridges and street lights. They also work to ensure that flood risks are mitigated where possible and water courses are managed. Much of this effort takes place outside offices and outside office hours. Many of our teams work anti-social hours in very difficult conditions when necessary; to grit roads; to deal with the aftermath of storms, flooding and fallen trees; and to ensure the enforcement of driver and vehicle licensing laws in the interests of public safety. Under the direction and control of the Minister for Infrastructure we also develop policy options for Ministerial consideration. This includes delivering a long-term water strategy, supporting shifts to more sustainable forms of transport, increasing the efficiency of our key economic corridors and addressing the climate crisis.

Departmental Board

The Departmental Board exists to lead the Department's strategic planning and assist the Permanent Secretary in meeting corporate governance responsibilities for the Department.  

The Board provides corporate leadership to the organisation as a whole, takes ownership of the Department's performance, provides support for the Head of Department and provides advice to the Minister.

The key aspects of the Board's role include:

  • taking forward the Department's agreed strategic aims
  • advising on the allocation of its financial and human resources to achieve those aims
  • managing departmental resources and monitoring the achievement of performance objectives
  • setting the Department's standards and values
  • maintaining a transparent system of prudent and effective controls;
  • assessing and managing risk
  • leading and overseeing the process of change and encouraging innovation, to enhance the Department's capability to deliver


The Permanent Secretary's recent Registers for Gifts and Hospitality and Expenses claims are available at:

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