Rhonda Paisley awarded £24,249 in discrimination case over arts job

 

The Fair Employment Tribunal in the North has awarded £24,249 to Ms Rhonda Paisley after ruling she was discriminated against by being turned down for a job as an arts officer promoting cross-Border links.

Ms Paisley, daughter of the Rev Ian Paisley, applied in 1995 for the post of Arts Co-operation Officer, which was jointly funded by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the Arts Council in the Republic.

The tribunal yesterday ruled that Ms Paisley, former councillor for the DUP and a member the Free Presbyterian Church, was unlawfully discriminated against on the grounds of her religious beliefs and political opinions.

Ms Paisley, an artist, was interviewed by a five-member panel chaired by the vice-chairman of the Arts Council in the North, Sir Charles Brett, and also including the then director of the Arts Council in the Republic, Mr Adrian Munnelly. The tribunal criticised the panel and Sir Charles and Mr Munnelly were said to have given evidence which "in certain respects was quite misleading".

The tribunal had "no doubt that the applicant [Ms Paisley] was treated less favourably at interview than any of the other candidates". Ms Paisley, it said, was inhibited by Sir Charles when he told her "we all know of your work as a councillor for eight years, are there any other matters?" The tribunal found panel members did not have full knowledge of Ms Paisley's experience as a councillor, which it said was relevant to the job.

While not accepting that Ms Paisley, who came third in the selection procedure, was better qualified than the successful candidate or first runner-up, the tribunal said: "We assess her relevant knowledge, skills, experience and abilities as better than the successful candidate."

Ms Paisley, whose father has been a long-time critic of fair employment measures in the North, was delighted with the ruling. She hoped it would encourage others in the arts "to challenge and pursue those in positions who control appointments and decide funding, when it is apparent that discrimination is rife in their ranks".

In a joint statement, both arts councils regretted the ruling. "The decision is being studied and both councils are considering the options of seeking a review and/or an appeal against the findings of the tribunal."