Praise for man at heart of Sinn Fein religious bias case

Dr Alan Lennon
Dr Alan Lennon

Tributes have been paid to Dr Alan Lennon OBE, chairman of a leading health watchdog and former Invest Northern Ireland board member, who has died peacefully at home.

Dr Lennon made headlines in 2012 when he was found to have lost out on the position of chairman of Northern Ireland Water in 2012 due to religious discrimination by the then Sinn Fein minister Conor Murphy.

Conor Murphy

Conor Murphy

He was chairman of the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA), a visiting professor at Ulster Business School and was awarded an OBE for services to education.

His family said he passed away peacefully at his Ballynahinch home on Friday.

He is survived by his wife Heather and children Stephen and Julia.

Mark Ennis, chairman of Invest NI, said: “It was with great sadness that I learnt of the passing of Alan over the weekend.

Dr Alan Lennon

Dr Alan Lennon

“Alan made a significant contribution to the Northern Ireland economy with a successful track record in the private sector and a strong sense of public service, including his time as a board member of Invest NI from 2008 to 2014.

“During his tenure, he enthusiastically provided wise counsel and extensive insights, which were invaluable to myself and the other Board members. Our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time.”

Alastair Hamilton, chief executive of Invest NI, also praised Dr Lennon.

“Alan brought a lifetime of business knowledge and expertise to the Board of Invest NI, particularly in the areas of change management, leadership and business performance which provided positive strategic challenge, and contributed greatly in the formative stage of our current strategy,” he said.

In 2012, it emerged that Dr Lennon had been discriminated against by then-Stormont regional development minister Conor Murphy, who was in charge of much of the Province’s public infrastructure.

Dr Lennon received £150,000 in damages after an employment tribunal found that he had been overlooked for the post of Northern Ireland Water chairman because he was a Protestant.

A compensation settlement was agreed which was equivalent to three years salary for the position.

Dr Lennon said: “I took the case primarily to challenge what I believe to be serious flaws in the public appointments system and the level of compensation agreed marks the seriousness of what occurred.

“I hope that this will result in a more transparent and equitable public appointments process.”

Deciding Mr Lennon was discriminated against, the tribunal believed Mr Murphy, now the Newry and Armagh MP, also broke the code of practice for appointments.

It ruled that Mr Murphy had breached the code when he appointed Sean Hogan – a Catholic who was known to him – to the position.

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

Mr Murphy and Sinn Fein consistently denied any discrimination.

The Equality Commission assisted Dr Lennon in bringing his case.

Chief executive Evelyn Collins, 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.”

The following minister in the department, the UUP’s Danny Kennedy, declined to appeal against the tribunal’s findings, a decision Sinn Fein disagreed with.

• A celebration of Dr Lennon’s life will be held at his home, 171 Dromore Road, Ballynahinch, BT24 8HZ on Wednesday November 15 at 2pm.

Donations in lieu of flowers can be made to Cancer Research.