Fermanagh Council: “at best prima facie discriminatory and certainly unedifying”

BBC report notes the publication, one month after the ruling was made, of a High Court judgement which orders that Fermanagh District Council must pay the Local Government Auditor’s bill of £38,178 for an investigation into the controversial appointment of Rodney Connor as Chief Executive of the Council in 2000.  From the BBC report

In his ruling [Mr Justice Higgins] emphasised that the proceedings reflect in no way upon the ability or integrity of Mr Connor who “all parties acknowledged to be a successful appointment.”

And from ruling itself

[18]      The respondent auditor has expenses relating to the conduct of his investigation, the legal costs of defending the appeal before this court and the legal costs of the successful appellants. The expenses relating to the conduct of the investigation have not been incurred in connection with the appeal, though the other expenses have been. In what circumstances is he entitled to have those expenses paid by the account the subject of his investigation? What factors should the Court consider in determining whether to make an order under Section 82(7). If wilful misconduct is proved there is no difficulty. An auditor should not be entitled to have his expenses paid by the account in every case. For example, it would be inappropriate to do so where he has exceeded his statutory powers. A relevant factor must be whether the investigation was justified even though no finding is made against the Council or councillors.  In this case the investigation into the process of appointing the new Chief Executive was entirely justified in the circumstances. What was uncovered during the investigation must also be a relevant factor. What was uncovered in this instance fell short of wilful misconduct but was sufficient to justify settling two fair employment claims. It was at best prima facie discriminatory and certainly unedifying. All those factors justify an order under section 82(7) that the auditor’s expenses relating to the appeal, including the appellants’ costs of the appeal, should be paid out of the account of Fermanagh District Council. Accordingly I will make the order sought. [added emphasis]

The BBC report records the controversy

Unionist councillors had appeared to vote for him en block on party lines.

Two unsuccessful candidates alleged religious and political discrimination.

The council settled with them out of court after receiving legal advice that it was “unlikely that the claims could be successfully resisted.”

Nine unionist councillors were originally found guilty of wilful misconduct but on appeal they were cleared of any wrongdoing.

As a result the High Court had to consider whether central government or the council should bear the expenses incurred by the auditor in carrying out his investigation.

Mr Connor is currently standing as the [independent] joint Unionist, and Conservative, candidate in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

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