Judge criticises SF minister over crucial lack of minutes

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In further evidence of the problems with the culture of verbal government at Stormont, an employment judge has criticised a former Sinn Féin minister for not recording a minute of a key meeting where he decided to appoint two individuals to a public sector position.

Yesterday the News Letter revealed that former infrastructure minister Chris Hazzard had asked civil servants not to attend an important meeting with a party colleague and taxi firm owners after which policy about allowing taxis into bus lanes was controversially changed, meaning that there are no minutes of what was discussed.

That revelation undermined Sinn Féin’s attempt to distance itself from the culture which the head of the Civil Service revealed a fortnight ago when he said that officials deliberately did not record certain ministerial meetings due to the fact that the DUP and Sinn Féin were “sensitive to criticism” and were worried about the information being released under the Freedom of Information Act.

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Now, it can be revealed that two weeks ago Mr Hazzard’s failure to record discussions within his department was criticised by an employment judge, who said that if key meetings had been minuted and if other departmental flaws had been rectified an employment tribunal case is unlikely to have arisen.

Chris Hazzard at the  launch of Sinn Fein's  Integrity in Government document last yearChris Hazzard at the  launch of Sinn Fein's  Integrity in Government document last year
Chris Hazzard at the launch of Sinn Fein's Integrity in Government document last year

Employment Judge Neil Drennan QC rejected a sex discrimination case brought against Mr Hazzard and his former department by Geraldine Donaghy, who the minister had decided not to appoint as a non-executive director of Warrenpoint Harbour Authority. However, the judge raised a series of concerns about the process.

In his judgement, Judge Drennan said that Mr Hazzard had, prior to making a decision on who to appoint, discussed the process ‘informally’ with his then Special Adviser (Spad).

“No record was kept of the said discussion by either himself or the Spad; save that he had informed his Spad what he intended to do and he had asked the Spad did it flag up any issues or problem as they went both through the memorandum of 30 September 2016 and the Spad had responded he was content with the decision...the [minister] did not consider that such a discussion in his office, about such a decision, required to be recorded in any way.”

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He said that although nothing was noted under ‘Special Adviser’s Comments’ in a submission to the minister “it is apparent that the Spad had some input, however limited, in this process, as referred to above, which was not recorded, in writing, in any document relevant to the recruitment process”.

Former Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard. (Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye)Former Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard. (Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye)
Former Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard. (Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye)

The judge said that he believed that the Spad’s involvement “was not relevant to the determination of the claimant’s claim” but recommended that “if the minister’s Spad is to play any part in any such recruitment process, involving the relevant minister, then any such involvement must be properly minuted”.

Sinn Féin had not responded at the time of going to press.

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