Public appointments in Northern Ireland: update

On 1 July I posted an item on the judgment in Lennon v Department for Regional Development [2012] NIFET 00075 11FET (19 June 2012) about an allegation by Dr Alan Lennon, an unsuccessful candidate for the Chair of Northern Ireland Water, of unlawful discrimination in the appointing process. Dr Lennon claimed that though he had been the better-qualified candidate he was not appointed because he was a Protestant. The Fair Employment Tribunal upheld his allegation of unlawful discrimination on the ground of religious belief but dismissed his further complaint of unlawful discrimination on the ground of political opinion.

By the time the decision was announced the Minister who made the appointment, Conor Murphy MLA of Sinn Féin, had been replaced as Minister for Regional Development by Danny Kennedy MLA of the Ulster Unionist Party. Mr Murphy rejected the Tribunal’s findings in scathing terms and it was thought that the Department for Regional Development would appeal. However, Mr Kennedy has now announced that the Department does not intend to appeal after all, on the grounds that to do so would not be in the public interest. In his view, the prospect of success in any appeal is at best uncertain; moreover:

“Substantial public money has already been spent contesting this case and I have considered the additional significant costs of any appeal in making my decision. Both sides have been funded by public money and this would continue to be the case in further proceedings. Even if an appeal was successful this may result in further proceedings before a Tribunal, incurring a greater cost to the public purse. Such costs are unquantifiable at this time.”

Comment: Needless to say, the decision has been greeted with fury by Mr Murphy, who is reported by the BBC as accusing his Ulster Unionist successor of “scoring cheap political points at the expense of the truth” and saying that he would be seeking further legal advice – presumably about the possibility of judicial review. This has evidently progressed from the relatively calm waters of “law and religion” to the much choppier seas of “politics and religion” – at which point it probably drifts beyond the horizons of this blog.