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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  • Mark McGregor

    Pete,

    Though to be honest not only the Unionists voted as a bloc, the nationlists voted for en mase for their candidate. The only difference was their ‘sectarianism’ didn’t win.

  • Pete Baker

    Mark

    Which is why it’s fitting that Fermanagh District Council has to foot the bill.

  • Brian Walker

    Pete, or any Fermanagh expert, I see Fermanagh Council had 11 unionists and 9 Nats/ Reps, with 3 minor parties in the 1997 election. What happened in the voting for Connor do you know?

  • cynic2

    Brian

    Read the judgement. Its on the Courts Service Web Site

  • Ash Cloud

    Mark, er no, the nationalists voted for the best candidates. The clue is in the legal advice that it was “unlikely that the claims could be successfully resisted.” Because the other two candidates were better qualified. What was that about the orange order? One nationalist actually voted for Rodders – look it up Mark.

  • this is interesting – if Connor didn’t get the job would he have a case for discrimination too?

    Can two other people have a case for discrimination if only one of them can be the best person for the job?

    Another case of protecting rights that don’t exist?

  • snowstorm

    How come the story was prominent on the BBC website yet not mentioned on the BBC broadcast media???

  • jtwo

    I heard it on Radio Ulster’s 6 o’clock news last night.

  • In related news, I see the delightful Mr Jerome Quinn is also heading to court on a similar theme – although this time it’s the BBC and the reason ‘unfair dismissal’.

    Jerome’s long and arduous struggle as a member of the Tribe of the House of Ginger may or may not be the reason he is accusing the BBC of I quote ‘racial harassment’.

    Does anyone know the court date and time and I presume there’s a public gallery? I’ll bring the popcorn

  • Drumlin Rock

    How come the story is prominent at all? it is a ruling as to who should pay the auditors.

  • Neil

    Does formatting work now? It’s prominent because it looks like there’s been a waste of tax payer’s money. That is to say, had procedures been followed and the best person for the job been selected (as people said at the time) then Fermanagh wouldn’t have to pay out 38k.

    Get a quare duckhouse with 38 grand so ye would.

  • Ash Cloud

    And you don’t think its relevant that the Unionist/Orange council members voted in block for the worst of three candidates to give him a job? And then same Unionist/Orange organisations co-ordinate with Rodders so that he retires in time for another job where their interests will be represented? Do you really think people are stupid?

  • Mack

    Pete – Off topic, but did you figure out a way to embed videos ?

  • Ash Cloud

    Whats more relevant is that the rate payers of F/ST are going to have to stump up for this Unionist bigotry, discrimination and scheming. And they now expect the electorate to fall in behind the latest Unionist/Connors/orange scheme.

  • Pete Baker

    Mack

    Yes. Provided it’s just a clip on YouTube.

    Switch to html view when editing your post and copy and paste the embed code there.

  • Drumlin Rock

    So ash your saying that over 10 years ago they did a deal to get him to stand for MP now? catch a grip man, its not always a conspiracy.

  • Mack

    It’s stripping the flash objects out for me (even when I copy them from your posts), might need permissions or something.

  • Ash Cloud

    No. What I’m saying is this is a new conspiracy hatched up over the last months for their golden boy who has served them well.

  • Neil

    DR, let me ask you question. Given the Tories and UUs promises to move away from the sectarian politics of the past, can you condemn the discrimination in Fermanagh? Given that a judge has stated that it was obvious discrimination, (not might be; it was prima facie discriminatory or in other words self evidently discriminatory) do you not feel that that’s a bad thing? Or is Unionist discrimination alright with you?

    Also given your glorious leader’s desire to cut waste in NI, do you not think this is a good example of that? The council knew it was discriminatory when they did it, they were told so at the time, and the ‘prima facie’ comment by the judge underlines the fact that it was obvious. So in your opinion is stitching up Nationalists the only concern, and worth 40k in this instance, or do the principled Unionist’s of the UCUNF think that blatant discrimination practices and associated legal payouts should be avoided? Or is it more a case of talking out of both sides of your mouth, saying the principled thing and then doing whatever it takes to keep the fenians out?

    As an example if the same situation were reversed somewhere else, a Unionist who was the best candidate for the job was stitched up by the Nationalists on a council and the job awarded to a less suitable (nat) candidate.

    All the while the Unionists were telling the council that this was discrimination, and would likely end up costing money in court. Then a year down the line a judge rules that it was self evidently discriminatory and the council ends up out of pocket. In this instance are we to believe that you would question it’s prominence as news? Or is it only discrimination against Nationalists that is acceptable?

  • sammyMehaffey

    How do we know he was the worst candidate? As ar as we know he did an excellent job for all elements of the community. Give the man a break. And how can 2 others get paid off unless they were equally good and that is impossible to prove.

  • Pete Baker

    Shouldn’t need any permissions.

    Are you sure you’re looking at the html view?

    You can toggle between ‘visible’ and html top right of your post’s text in edit mode.

  • jtwo

    This is a bit of a kick in the balls for the ratepayers as the auditor really wanted to chase the councillors for the dough.

    However given their High Court victory they were no longer liable – that ruling is not overturned despite Mr Justice Higgins’ view that something rotten was afoot.

    Of course I’m sure those dedicated public servants who have incurred the ire of Higgins J will be lining up on Townhall Street with wallets open, ready to protect the ratepayer from their bad. Won’t they?

  • sammyMehaffey

    When did wee Higgins come up with his ruling? Strange that it arrived a week before the election. Normally he takes for ever to come up with a ruling. usually has to be nudged by the Lord chief justice.

  • Ash Cloud

    Okay. Let’s give the man a break and ignore the discrimination and the cost to the F/ST rate payer. After all it was all about keeping the taigs out… just like this unionist pact. Well worth the money.

  • jtwo

    He did take forever. It was delivered in March, but as far as I’m aware he’s been ‘reserving’ judgement for the guts of a year.

  • slug

    I smell bias

  • Greenflag

    Neil ,

    ‘Given the Tories and UUs promises to move away from the sectarian politics of the past, can you condemn the discrimination in Fermanagh? ‘

    LOL – It’s the way you tell em Neil ;).

    Once upon a time in Fermanagh there was a non sectarian unionist who had a non sectarian nationalist neighbour .I forget the rest of the story but it all ends with them living miserably amongst the dreary steeples ever after 😉

  • jtwo

    You honestly think a Lord Justice of Appeal has taken it upon himself to nobble Connor’s run? Well he is called Malachy so I suppose we must be watchful…

  • Drumlin Rock

    Grow up ash and quit spitting the dummy out.

    If you actually read the judgment it finds that the individual councilors were not liable, and whilst he might not have liked how it was all handled he has basically upheld the courts decision to clear the councilors.

  • simond

    There’s actually an easier method: if you simply paste the URL of the clip’s YouTube page into the post editing area, on its own line, it will get turned into the necessary embed code automatically – with the added benefits of (a) resizing to fit the design’s dimensions, and (b) hopefully being a bit more future-proof.

    The method is known as oEmbed, and it works with a number of sites in addition to YouTube. There’s more detail on this page at WordPress.org.

  • Mack

    Hi Simon,

    That works – I’ve got a video from CNBC too – are we allowed to embed those at the moment ?

  • Mack

    yep – html view alright.

  • Ash Cloud

    You are absolutely right. They have been found guilty of discrimination and are not liable to pay for it. Instead the rate payers of Fermanagh will pick up the £33,000 bill. They most certainly were not cleared!

  • cynic2

    Look Girls its Fermanagh…the land that time forgot. get over it.

  • Ash Cloud

    “‘best just to get over it and get on with your life’ as I seem to recall one female alleging”
    Yeah, your memory is a bit dodgy.

  • Greenflag

    ‘the land that time forgot.’

    And even the Tories forgot to nominate a non sectarian UCUNFer eh;)?

  • so, of the two parties discriminated against did they have a job share arrangement on the cards or was one SDLP and the other a Shinner in which case either would then be able to sue based on whether or not their nationalism began with a small or capital ‘n’?

    I cannot believe the central theme of the faux outrage being put across here:

    That local politicians from either side looking to back one of their own is anymore discriminatory then the other.

    Are we not wedded to such a stranglehold right now? Don’t we put an equal number of nationalists in the executive simply because they are nationalist? How did the 4 victims commissioners come about? The police recruitment policy? etc, etc, etc….

    The mock hubris, likely emanating from Shinners hoping to throw enough muck that some of it might stick long enough for SDLP voters to hold their nose and vote for Gildernew, is pretty pathetic.

  • Drumlin Rock

    They have NOT been found guilty of anything, the high court said that, so be careful with your accusations ash.

  • Greenflag

    st etienne,

    ‘The mock hubris, likely emanating from Shinners hoping to throw enough muck that some of it might stick long enough for SDLP voters to hold their nose and vote for Gildernew, is pretty pathetic’

    No more pathetic than the mock UCUNF /Tory so called non sectarian alliance and a candidate in all 18 NI constituencies. Shower of hypocrites and three card trick merchants with all the integrity of a cattle smuggling Brookeborough ;(

    Next time try finding some really tame ‘nationalist ‘ sheep to pull the wool over .

  • glencoppagagh

    The overriding objective is to dislodge an abstentionist elected on a minority of the vote who still claims £1,800 a month for London accommodation expenses. You will note that no such arrangement has come to pass in South Belfast where the incumbent is a nationalist but not an abstentionist.

  • Lionel Hutz

    The relevance of this case is not the scandal of the year 2000 at all.

    What the case in 2000 shows that, while there is insufficient evidence to prove wilful misconduct, the conduct was unedifying and sufficiently serious for Senior Counsel to advise that the Claimants should be bought off. It hints that Nationalists amy have been voting for the percieved nationalists and Unionists voted for the percieved Unionist.

    The relevance is though that the Unionist’s man was Rodney Connor then and its Rodney Connor now. Unionist councillors got him his job as Chief Executive and now they have put him in parliament. How many people do you know that have been given two jobs by the help of two policitical parties.

    This gives lie to two notions that Mr Connor has been trying to push:

    – That he is independent of the Unionist parties.

    – That he has taken up the candidacy to give representation to all. Unionist have been and will continue to be kingmakers or they can take it away. his job depends on pleasing the Unionists.

    Ofcourse we have all known this but this 2000 case puts it right in your face

  • Fermanagh Ratepayer

    This figure of £38,000 is grossly under estimated. The High Court judgement ruled that FDC was liable to pay not only the fine, but also awarded full costs incurred by the 9 unionist councillors, bringing the total bill to the ratepayers to just under £250,000.

  • Are you expecting me to accept that the central issue here – that what is sectarian, is not the already existing sectarian divide, but the fact that one side of this divide doesn’t reflect the split on the other side in mirror image?

    Get a grip.

    As regards the real reason for you’re mock horror, we all know it’s about discrediting the new departure here with as much mountains out of molehills as possible. Too bad there is sufficient support here already for the message the Tories are selling and combined with the existing infrastructure for one of the ‘middle of the road’ partys that we are on track for a different perspective. Permanently.

    The local village idiots will be dragged into this process kicking and screaming. True there are different dynamics in each constituency – FST and South Belfast being cases in point. But personally I’m happy with an almost 100% record. It’s better than the nothingness that was here before.

  • There is the lie to your own hypothesis however – that when Connor left office in Fermanagh he did so with the support of everyone in Fermanagh, whatever side of the divide.

    But don’t let that small point get in the way of your muck spreading!

  • Lionel Hutz

    Where is the muck raking?

    The fact of the matter is that the Chief Executive of a local council should not be a politicised job. Appointments are not supposed to be made on a tribal basis, but on ability as a CEO to conduct and coordinate the business of government as in any business. That Connor was very good at that is not the point. His position in Fermanagh did not involve tribal issues.

    His new job does however and the fact this man could now get two jobs due to support from unionist politicians shows where he stands. His entire career has been down to Unionist politicians for the last ten years. If he rocks that boat, where will get his support. Therefore he must follow the unionist agenda.

  • connors by name

    If only £250,000 was the only cost – Rodney wins this election the connor household stands to gain 1 million from the public purse over 5 years – and he takes the Tory whip! and votes for huge cuts in the public sector budget. I can’t imagine this is going down with a lot of people who would be normal vote Arlene