“Two distinctly unconvincing middle-class monsters squared off at an employment tribunal”

There’s been a case dragging on for several months now that concerns Alliance party and one of their former employees, Marjory Hawkins. It’s surfaced a few times, and occasionally we’ve taken a bit of stick for not covering it on Slugger. But last week it proved to be a complete non story after all… In today’s Irish News Newt runs his sceptics eye over what turned out to be nothing more that a quasi judicial farce. I replicate the bulk of his argument below the fold without further comment:

The Equality Commission already has statutory powers of investigation and enforcement and a key objective of its corporate plan is “to effect change through strategic enforcement”.

This makes the commission a sort of equality prosecution service, with a remit to pursue cases to advance its own agenda.

What strategy to “effect change” might the commission have had in mind when it brought a headline-grabbing case against a high-profile but harmless political party? Perhaps it will let us know.

Should an ambitious quango wish to take the next step and graduate from prosecutor to judge and jury, Northern Ireland’s industrial and fair employment tribunals are an obvious target for a Canadian-style change-effecting strategy.

Officially independent and representing both employers and employees, the conduct of the panel in the Alliance case may be a better representation of the tribunal system’s culture. All three panel members resigned because the chair had “difficulty” with a doctor testifying that Ms Hawkins had exaggerated her claim of disability. This was not because there was any doubt over the doctor’s testimony. It was because the panel did not think anyone claiming to be disabled should be doubted.

This culture is closely compatible with the left-liberal groupthink of the Equality Commission, which is only to be expected in the small world of Northern Ireland’s new political establishment.

Another interesting vulnerability of the tribunal system is that it is not covered by legal aid. So a quango with a large legal budget and an in-house legal team could go a long way towards setting the tone and direction of the system’s case-load.

Of course, there is no evidence that the Equality Commission is engaged in cynical empire building. Then again, there was no evidence that the Alliance Party had discriminated against Margaret Hawkins. Perhaps the commission’s true goals have simply been obscured by failure. That happens a lot around here.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty