A SINN FÉIN minister and his department have been found guilty of discriminating against an applicant on the basis of religion.
The Fair Employment Tribunal has said that Alan Lennon was overlooked for appointment of chairman at Northern Ireland Water by Newry/Armagh MP Conor Murphy because he was Protestant.
Lennon was interviewed for the position by a selection panel and approved as a suitable candidate, along with four other applicants – three Protestants and one Catholic, UTV reports.
In March 2011, Murphy appointed the sole Catholic applicant, Sean Hogan, as chairman.
In its ruling, the tribunal said there was “considerable doubt” as to whether Hogan had indeed been the most suitable candidate – and that it was satisfied that Hogan was selected because “he was not from a Protestant background and because he was known to the minister and his ministerial colleagues”, reports the Guardian.
The tribunal noted that during the time Murphy was Department for Regional Development minister (2007 – 2011) there had been “material bias” against the appointment of candidates from a Protestant background.
However, Murphy released a statement last night, saying:
I absolutely refute any allegation of discrimination against Alan Lennon on religious grounds.
I stand over all of the appointments I made as the regional development minister and adhered to all the set criteria for such appointments.
The department have six weeks to decide whether to appeal this ruling. Having read the ruling myself I would be urging the department to utilise the appeals process.
While the tribunal found that Lennon had suffered unlawful religious discrimination by the Department of Regional Development, it rejected a further claim of unlawful political discrimination on the basis of his political opinions – saying that there was not enough evidence to support that assertion.
Lennon welcomed the ruling, saying: “I brought this case to shine a light on what I feel is a selection system that is not fit for purpose… I am very pleased that it appears that this case will put in train changes and improvements to the processes around public appointments.”