Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Tribunal findings deeply unsettling

If he was an MP in any other part of the UK, Conor Murphy could be facing an uncertain future. A tribunal finding that he discriminated against a Protestant applicant for the post of chairman of Northern Ireland Water, suggestions that his evidence lacked credibility and that hiring procedures were breached, represent a pretty damning indictment of Mr Murphy's role in this issue during his time as Minister for Regional Development.

He says he will appeal the decision, but what will happen if he does not win? Elsewhere there might be calls for him to stand down as an MP, but that won't happen here.

It is surprising, and disquieting, to find that discrimination can still be practiced at the heart of government. Most people thought that such practices, especially for public appointments, had ceased. While there was a long history of discrimination in employment in the province, legislation had largely made it a thing of the past, or so we had hoped.

Dr Alan Lennon, the unsuccessful Protestant candidate who brought the discrimination case against the Department for Regional Development deserves credit for his courage and the Equality Commission is equally to be applauded for backing him. This case has shown that the institutions set up to combat discrimination are robust and effective and that - along with the media - there are measures in place to keep even government under keen scrutiny.

Ultimately it is another sad chapter in the history of Northern Ireland Water. The chairman's post became vacant because of the fall-out from the performance of the body during a winter freeze up which burst many mains supplies.

Sinn Fein was among the strongest critics of the body, a stance which seems somewhat ironic in light of the tribunal finding.

None of this is a reflection on the man who gained the post, but rather on the minister's appointment process.

Hopefully it will lead to a reform of government departments' recruitment procedures and a positive move forward in the fight against discrimination.

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