PRESSURE was last night mounting for an investigation into whether former Stormont minister Conor Murphy broke the ministerial code by discriminating against a Protestant for a lucrative appointment.
On Wednesday night it emerged that a tribunal had found that Alan Lennon, a Protestant, was overlooked for the position of chairman of Northern Ireland Water.
Calls from across the political spectrum were also made for the man who Mr Lennon lost out to – Sean Hogan – to step down as chairman of NI Water.
There is no suggestion that Mr Hogan was in any way involved in, or aware of, Mr Murphy’s discrimination.
The tribunal found that Mr Hogan was selected because “he was not from a Protestant background and because he was known to the minister and his (then Sinn Fein) ministerial colleagues”, Michelle Gildernew and Caitriona Ruane, who were consulted about the appointment.
Yesterday, the former Sinn Fein minister said he did not believe he had anything to apologise for and said that his decision was based on merit and was audited by the commissioner for public appointments.
But last night the former commissioner, Felicity Houston, said that if she had known then what she knows now she would have found that Mr Murphy broke the code on public appointments.
The current regional development minister, Danny Kennedy, said that he had briefed the Stormont executive yesterday about the tribunal finding.
Mr Kennedy said that he had told them that he would take “further legal advice” about the issue and that his officials would meet with the Equality Commission and the Public Appointments Commission.
During his tenure as regional development minister, the News Letter reported numerous concerns about how Mr Murphy dealt with NI Water, culminating in the extraordinary scenes at Christmas 2010 when the company proved incapable of dealing with a severe cold snap.
One of his most contentious decisions was to remove NI Water’s non-executive directors. One of those former directors, Declan Gormley, is suing the department and Mr Murphy over that decision.
It is understood that attempts by Mr Gormley to mediate with the department in the interests of saving public funds have not been taken up by DRD, even after the department changed hands from Sinn Fein to the UUP.
When asked last night whether he would reconsider the department’s decision to fight that case in light of what now has emerged, Mr Kennedy said: “I can’t make any comment on that.”
Ulster Unionist leader, Mike Nesbitt, said: “I am in no doubt whatsoever that a ruling is needed over whether Conor Murphy’s sectarian decision broke the MLAs code of conduct, which calls for equality and objectivity, and also breached the ministerial code, which demands impartiality, integrity and objectivity.”
The DUP’s Gregory Campbell said that it was a “damning indictment of religious discrimination by a Sinn Fein minister”.
He said: “The tribunal also raises serious questions for Mr Hogan. It is clear that the appointment was not made on the basis of merit. Given this unethical appointment, Mr Hogan should consider his position.”
TUV leader Jim Allister, who has tabled a series of Assembly questions about other Sinn Fein appointments, said that the tribunal had exposed Mr Murphy as “a brazen practitioner of sectarian discrimination and Sinn Fein once again have been shown to be unfit for government”.
And SDLP MLA John Dallat called for an independent inquiry into all appointments and dismissals.