Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 April 2014

Man denied post at Northern Ireland Water over his religion could get £350k payout

Dr Alan Lennon leaves the hearing at Killymeal House in Belfast on Monday

A man who was turned down for the post of chairman of NI Water because of his religion could receive up to £350,000 in lost earnings and compensation.

In June an industrial tribunal ruled that Dr Alan Lennon had been discriminated against because he was a Protestant.

It also said it believed that the then Regional Development Minister, Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy, broke the code of practice for appointments.

On Monday, lawyers representing both Mr Lennon and the department met to thrash out a financial remedy following the ruling.

Representing the Department for Regional Development (DRD), Noelle McGrenera QC said it was its opinion that only three candidates from the final five — including Mr Lennon — were suitable for the job.

She claimed any payout should be considered on the grounds of Mr Lennon enduring a case of “loss of chance” as opposed to “failure to appoint”.

Ms McGrenera said the financial settlement should therefore be divided by a third, with Mr Lennon receiving 33% of any figure agreed by both parties.

This was rejected by Mr Lennon’s legal team, headed up by Tony McGleenan QC, who described it as a “novel line of argument” and “opportunistic”.

The tribunal panel — chaired by Samuel Crothers — agreed with Mr Lennon’s representatives.

The hearing in Belfast’s Gasworks was told Mr Lennon’s payout would be decided on the grounds of the salary band he would most likely have been placed on — ranging from £40,000 per annum to £51,000.

Then the time he would have been expected to spend in the role had he got the job would be determined. This was said to range from three to six years.

Other compensation could also be factored in. The eventual payout to Mr Lennon could range from £120,000 to approximately £350,000.

The hearing took an unusual twist when Mr Crothers announced that one of the tribunal panel members at Monday’s hearing was not eligible to hear the case.

The tribunal was therefore adjourned until next month. The tribunal has already determined that Mr Murphy added new criteria to the selection process “to secure Mr (Sean) Hogan’s appointment”, something it viewed as a breach of the code and procedures for appointments.

The tribunal disputed Mr Murphy’s claim he was unaware of the religion of candidates.

The tribunal also said that during Mr Murphy’s time as DRD minister between 2007-2011 there was “a material bias against the appointment of candidates from a Protestant background”.

In a statement made after the determination, Mr Murphy said: “I absolutely refute any allegation of discrimination against Mr Lennon on religious grounds.

“I stand over all of the appointments I made and adhered to all the set criteria for such appointments.”

In July the new DRD minister — the UUP’s Danny Kennedy — said the ruling would not be appealed.

Mr Murphy claimed Mr Kennedy’s decision was “politically motivated”. He was angered at his former department’s decision not to appeal and accused his successor of “scoring cheap political points at the expense of the truth”.

Mr Kennedy dismissed those remarks as “nonsense”.

Background

In March 2011 the then DRD minister Conor Murphy appointed a Catholic, Sean Hogan, as chairman of NI Water ahead of four others shortlisted, all of them Protestants. According to a subsequent industrial tribunal in June of this year, Mr Hogan was selected because “he was not from a Protestant background and because he was known to the minister”.