Belfast Telegraph

Human rights body in legal row over treatment of staff

By Liam Clarke

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is facing legal action for allegedly ignoring the employment rights of two of its employees.

The NIHRC has refused to comment on the two cases which are listed for industrial tribunals. It is being accused of sex discrimination, failure to pay wages, unfair dismissal, breach of contract and failure to pay redundancy.

One case is being taken by Ciaran O Maolain (below), a human rights consultant who was the commission's head of legal services until he was made redundant last summer. The second involves Angela Lloyd-Stevens, a case worker with the commission.

Mr O Maolain declined to comment. However the Department of Employment and Learning confirmed he had made two claims. One was against the Northern Ireland Office and the NIHRC for allegedly failing to pay him wages.

Ms Lloyd-Stevens alleges failure to pay wages and sex discrimination.

Mr O Maolain's case originates in a redundancy programme undertaken by the NIHRC last year. It said it was shedding staff because it had to make a 25% cut in its budget by 2014. The scheme hit controversy when it emerged that the NIHRC had used Lynne Sheridan, a disgraced former nurse, as a consultant.

Sheridan was supplied by Peninsula Consulting, a company which insures employers against claims from employees. The NIHRC was unaware that she had been struck off as a nurse for abusing old people in a residential home.

Sheridan appeared at staff meetings beside Virginia McVea, the chief executive. However, when the Belfast Telegraph revealed her background the NIHRC dispensed with her services. Peninsula stood by her, describing her as a "respected professional member of our advocacy team".

Mr O Maolain alleges there was inadequate consultation before his redundancy, that he was selected unfairly, and the redundancy paid to him was too low.

Robin McClelland of Nipsa said: "There are two separate claims on behalf of Ms Lloyd-Stevens, both of them centring on job evaluation".

He would not disclose what sums of money were involved in any of the claims.

Background

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is an independent, statutory body set up in 1999. It describes itself as having a role to "promote awareness of the importance of human rights in Northern Ireland, to review existing law and practice and to advise the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Executive of the Northern Ireland Assembly on what legislative or other measures ought to be taken to protect human rights in Northern Ireland". The full-time chief commissioner is Professor Michael O'Flaherty, and there are currently seven part-time commissioners to support him.

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