'Religious bias' in SF minister's office


THE NORTH’S Fair Employment Tribunal has found that a Protestant man who failed to be appointed by a Sinn Féin minister to the post of chairman of NI Water was unlawfully discriminated against on the basis of his religion.

The tribunal’s judgment is critical of former Sinn Féin minister of regional development Conor Murphy and reports how four Protestants and one Catholic were shortlisted for the position and the Catholic candidate, Sean Hogan, was appointed in March last year.

“The Minister maintained that he appointed Sean Hogan on merit and that he did not know whether the five recommended candidates were Protestant or Catholic,” the tribunal said in its judgment released yesterday.

“In the reality of the political and religious environment in Northern Ireland the tribunal finds that the minister’s evidence on this point is implausible and lacks credibility,” it added.

The tribunal judged that Mr Hogan was appointed “because he was not from a Protestant background and because he was known to the minister and his ministerial colleagues”.

The tribunal found Dr Alan Lennon, who has an OBE, suffered unlawful religious discrimination by the Department of Regional Development. However, it rejected his claim for unlawful political discrimination on the basis of his political opinions due to a “paucity” of evidence. It will decide later what compensation he should receive.

The tribunal also found that over a four-year period during 2007-2011 when Mr Murphy was in charge of the department that “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”.

“The tribunal is satisfied that there was a material bias against the appointment of candidates from a Protestant background within [the department].” The tribunal was also critical of the current head of the Northern Ireland civil service, Dr Malcolm McKibbin, who was then permanent secretary of the department. It said it was concerned “he was not more aware of the situation”.

Mr Murphy, who is MP for Newry and Armagh and is shortly to stand down as Assembly member for the same constituency, rejected the findings and called for the judgment to be appealed.

“I absolutely refute any allegation of discrimination against Alan Lennon on religious grounds.”