Murphy rejects findings on NI Water job


SINN FÉIN former regional development minister Conor Murphy has insisted that the chairman of NI Water was appointed on merit and that he had nothing to apologise for to Alan Lennon, one of the Protestant candidates who was overlooked for the post.

Mr Murphy said he “refuted” the finding by the North’s Fair Employment Tribunal that engineer Dr Lennon was a victim of unlawful discrimination on the basis of his religion during the interview process for the NI Water position.

The tribunal reported how of the five shortlisted candidates for the post four were Protestant and one Catholic, and that it was the Catholic candidate, Seán Hogan, who was appointed chairman of NI Water.

The tribunal described as “implausible” and lacking “credibility” Mr Murphy’s assertion that he did not know whether the five recommended candidates were Protestant or Catholic.

The tribunal also found that in the period 2007 to 2011, when Mr Murphy was in charge of the Department for Regional Development, “there was a significant disparity” between the success rates of Protestant and Catholic applicants and “that a Catholic applicant was at least twice as likely to be appointed than a Protestant applicant”.

Mr Murphy, in rejecting the tribunal’s findings, also said the North’s public appointments commission had audited the interview procedure and found that it met the required guidelines.

A spokeswoman for the commission confirmed yesterday that the interview was audited and found to be compliant with the code of employment practice.

However, later yesterday former public appointments commissioner Felicity Houston, who was in office at the time of the interview, told BBC Radio Ulster that all the required information about the process was not available to the commission at the time.

Mr Murphy urged that the tribunal judgment should be appealed by the Department for Regional Development, whose current Minister is Ulster Unionist Danny Kennedy.

When asked about the possibility of an appeal, a department spokeswoman said: “The department is currently considering its position following the tribunal’s decision and it would be too early to make any further comment.”

The Irish Times also asked if the department accepted the tribunal’s finding that Catholics were at least twice as likely as Protestants to be successful when applying for departmental posts, but the question was not directly answered.

“The department will be consulting with its legal advisers and has six weeks to decide whether or not to appeal the decision. In the circumstances, it would therefore be inappropriate to respond further,” said the spokeswoman.

Mr Murphy came under considerable criticism yesterday, notwithstanding his assertions that Mr Hogan was properly appointed and his religion was not a factor.

SDLP Assembly member John Dallat called for an independent inquiry into the appointments system at the department when Mr Murphy was minister.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt described Mr Murphy’s decision on the post as “sectarian” and called for a ruling on whether he broke the ministerial and MLA code of conduct. Jim Allister of the Traditional Unionist Voice said the issue exposed republican talk about “building an Ireland of equals” as “bluster”.