“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.

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  • [Equality] Commission Withdraws Assistance

    “Bob Collins, Chief Commissioner of the Equality Commission, said today: “In discharging its statutory duties by assisting people to take cases alleging discrimination, the Commission regards total confidence in the applicant as a key requirement. We assisted this case on its merits, but there was an irretrievable breakdown in our relationship with the applicant, which has led to our decision to withdraw assistance.

    The Commission is particularly aware of the fact that the provision of legal assistance involves the expenditure of public money. The integrity of its legal assistance process is a paramount consideration for the Commission.”

    Until all legal issues have been finally resolved the Equality Commission is unable to comment further.”

    It’s as clear as mud.

  • Mark McGregor

    Wouldn’t say it was a ‘complete non story’, while the complainant’s integrity was called into question, another former Alliance party employee gave evidence agreeing with the claims about Farry’s behaviour and that person hasn’t any questions over their integrity and had nothing to gain by making the claims.

  • DC

    To say it was a ‘complete non story’ is lazy journalism and to rely on a satirist for some sort of factual analysis reinforces that, in my view.