£150K payout is ‘the cost of Sinn Fein bigotry’

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SINN Fein “bigotry” has led to the taxpayer footing a £150,000 compensation bill for religious discrimination, it has been claimed.

TUV leader Jim Allister made the comments after a tribunal in Belfast made the substantial award to Dr Alan Lennon.

In June this year a tribunal found that Dr Lennon, a Protestant, had been discriminated against by the Department of Regional Development (DRD) when he failed to be appointed as chairman of NI Water.

The tribunal ruled that former Sinn Fein minister Conor Murphy had breached a code of practice when he appointed Sean Hogan – a Catholic who was known to him – to the position in March last year.

The four other applicants, all Protestants, were turned down.

Mr Murphy and Sinn Fein have consistently denied any allegations of discrimination.

Mr Allister has congratulated Dr Lennon on winning his case and said it highlighted the “serious flaws” in the public appointments process.

“Because of Sinn Fein’s bigotry the hard-pressed taxpayer of Northern Ireland will not just have to meet the cost of the damages awarded to Mr Lennon but also the substantial legal costs,” said Mr Allister.

“His case has exposed the blatant sectarianism of Sinn Fein/IRA and demonstrated in graphic terms why republicans are completely unsuitable for government.

“Murphy’s evidence was rightly dismissed by the tribunal as ‘implausible’ and lacking in credibility. Small wonder when, under cross-examination, he denied knowing the religious background of Sean Hogan from Newry.”

Mr Allister added: “In no other country would a party be allowed to remain in office after such a devastating exposure of their sectarianism. Those who day and daily sustain republicans in government have a lot to answer for.”

Speaking following yesterday’s announcement, Dr Lennon said the substantial sum reflected the seriousness of the discrimination he endured.

“We need to make changes to this process which is subject to abuse. We have now proven that the process for public appointments can be used by ministers if they chose to do so to discriminate and we need to change that.”

Dr Lennon said he hoped the case would result in “a more transparent and equitable public appointments process”.

He added: “I note that commitments have been made by the department to review these processes and it is vital for public confidence in government in Northern Ireland that this case acts as a springboard for change.”

The Equality Commission assisted Dr Lennon in bringing his case against the DRD.

Evelyn Collins, chief executive of the Equality Commission, said: “The commission supported this case to establish that public appointments, including those which involve the exercise of a minister’s discretion, are fully within the protection of anti-discrimination legislation.

“If unlawful discrimination occurs it is important that there is a sufficient degree of transparency and accountability in the appointments process to enable it to be challenged, and an effective remedy for the person discriminated against is an essential part of that.”

In July the current Ulster Unionist Roads Minister Danny Kennedy said his department would not appeal against the tribunal’s decision because of cost implications for the public purse.

Yesterday, Mr Kennedy said the department would discuss issues arising from the case with both the Equality Commission and the Commissioner for Public Appointments in Northern Ireland.

“At all stages I have taken into account the potential cost to the public purse. This has been no different in dealing with matters in relation to compensation,” he said.

Commenting on the compensation payout to Dr Lennon, a Sinn Fein spokesperson said: “It is our firm view that the Department of Regional Development should have appealed this case in line with the advice that was received. Why this was not appealed is a question that the minister needs to answer.”