New Sinn Féin MLA Director of Group that Discriminated against Job Applicant because of his Political Opinion

The Irish News today highlights details of the newly-appointed Sinn Féin MLA for Foyle Karen Mullan’s relevant experience for the job, mentioned in Eamonn McCann’s excellent post on the case, that illuminates David’s, somewhat limited, subsequent description of her as a “community worker in the city of Derry”.

Karen Mullan is a director of Waterside Neighbourhood Partnership (WNP) Ltd., Sinn Féin and the DUP’s preferred delivery mechanism for community services and funding in the area, who, earlier this year, were ordered to pay Gary McClean £10,734 in compensation after a Fair Employment Tribunal found that they had unlawfully discriminated against him on grounds of his political opinion.  From the Irish News report

Giving evidence to the [Fair Employment] tribunal, [Karen Mullan] said an interview panellist had told her they had been bullied into giving a better score.

However, the tribunal said her evidence “lacked credibility” as her claims were not contained in her written evidence and only emerged during cross-examination.

The dead tree version includes Sinn Féin’s response

A Sinn Féin spokesperson said: “Karen Mullan is a member of the Waterside Neighbourhood Partnership Board but was not involved in the interview panel.  Karen accepts the decision of the tribunal and welcomes the strengthening of the Partnership Board’s recruitment policies and procedures.”

Up to a point, Lord Copper… because another Sinn Féin activist, and WNP director, was involved in the three person interview panel, and Karen Mullan was involved in the discussions of the interview panel shortly afterwards – recommending a re-advertisement of the post in the process, despite there being a successful candidate.

It’s worth repeated some of the detail from Eamonn’s post on May 31.

Having obtained DSD funding, the WNP advertised the Curryneirin job in April 2015. Three applicants were selected for interview. The interviews took place on 5 June 2015, before a panel comprising three WNP directors – strategy manager [Alison] Wallace and WNP co-chairs Geraldine Doherty and William Lamrock. DSD official Geraldine Boggs sat in and took notes.

When the interview scores were totted up, only McClean had reached the set threshold of 59 marks from a possible 70. Each of the panel members signed a document recording the marks of each applicant. The marks were then collated. The collated document referred to McClean as the “person appointed.” The following month, however, McClean was told that he had not been appointed, that the competition was being re-run. McClean did not apply a second time but instead lodged his complaint.

Both Wallace and Doherty suggested to the Tribunal that they had been pressurised by Lamrock into giving McClean higher marks than they otherwise would and that this had later made them uneasy. Doherty said that she had been made to feel “very uncomfortable” during the interviews. Wallace said that Lamrock “can be unpleasant at times…is very overbearing and…can cause difficulties for you.”

Both women also suggested that Lamrock had boosted his own marks for McClean because they had had a previous working relationship.

The Tribunal pointed out in its report that none of these complaints had been made at the time or immediately afterwards, but had appeared for the first time in witness statements to the Tribunal.

“This suggests that this allegation (of favouritism), like the allegation of bullying, is something that has only occurred to Ms. Wallace and Ms. Doherty relatively recently.”

And, on the involvement of the newly appointed Sinn Féin MLA, Karen Mullan…

Another WNP director, Karen Mullan, gave evidence that, shortly after the day of the interviews, Doherty had told her that she had “concerns” about the interviews. The Tribunal noted that these concerns of Doherty’s had not been mentioned by Mullan until cross-examination before the Tribunal.

Mullan is a member of Sinn Fein. She is also manager of the main community group in the Nationalist Top of the Hill area of the Waterside.

The weeks following the interviews saw a furry of emails between Mullan, the three panel members, and another WNP director, Linda Watson.

On June 12, Lamrock wrote: “We need to call a meeting of the Company as there are risks and issues for us in this matter.” No such meeting was held. The Tribunal commented that, “If such a meeting had been held, there could have been a full discussion between Mr. Lamrock and the other two interview panel members.”

Wallace wrote to Doherty and Lamrock again on July 6, making the point that “two of the panel had major concerns.” Lamrock replied: “The recruitment was run and scoring completed…This brought an end to the process…”

On the following day, Mullan wrote again to the three interviewers, Lamrock, Doherty and Wallace: “If two out of three interviewers are not happy with the candidate I think we should go back out to re-advertisement.”

Lamrock wrote back: “There was a successful candidate. Now for that decision to be overturned there must be a strong reason based on fact that will stand up to scrutiny. Otherwise the company would open itself to risk. I am not prepared to do that. This is public funds…” [added emphasis]

Told that he had not been appointed, McClean asked for the interview notes. However, the Tribunal recorded, the notes forwarded by Wallace “had a significant part removed without any indication that that part had been removed. In particular, that part recording the setting of the threshold marking of 59 marks and the blank space where the interviewers would have completed their names…(Wallace’s) only explanation was that she had been advised that the names of the interviewers should not be related directly to each scoring sheet. However, since the place for the names had been blank…there was absolutely no reason for the deletion other than the obvious reason of avoiding telling the claimant that the threshold marking had been set at 59 marks and that therefore he had exceeded the threshold mark.”

The Tribunal described Wallace’s evidence on this point as “unconvincing and evasive.”

Another WNP director, Linda Watson, told the Tribunal that a few days after the interviews she had been informed of the concerns of Wallace and Doherty. But, the Tribunal recorded, “At no stage had she asked for sight of the collation sheet or for any of the documentation…She merely stated that she had taken it that ‘what Ms. Wallace told me was the truth.’”

The Tribunal declared: “In short, Ms. Watson’s evidence was not credible.”

Watson is a prominent campaigner for the DUP in Derry. She is a senior community coordinator in the Unionist Caw/Nelson Drive area.

Doherty accepted in cross-examination that she had been an active member of Sinn Fein in the Mountainview area of the Waterside, where McClean, too, lived: “She stated however that she knew very little about him. That was unconvincing. This had been a small area in a small city where both individuals had been involved in community work for lengthy periods.”

One implication of Doherty knowing little about McClean would have been that she couldn’t, then, have held his political views against him. Doherty is a former secretary of the SF branch which covers Mountainview.

Doherty repeatedly insisted that she had no knowledge of the North West Social Forum (NWSF), of which McClean had been coordinator. She was “absolutely sure” that she had never heard of this organisation. She was then shown a copy of McClean’s job application in which his employment by the NWSF between 2002 and 2005 was highlighted under the heading “relevant experience.” She explained that she had read “most of” the application, but “not in any real detail.” She agreed that she had had the application form in front of her during the interview.

The Tribunal found it “not credible” that Doherty had not read that part of the application form which referred to relevant experience. This was “particularly implausible” given that “she now states that she had been concerned about the claimant’s experience.”

If the Fair Employment Tribunal’s finding that certain testimony “lacks credibility” sounds familiar, it should.  [Equality, Respect, Rights? – Ed]  Indeed.

As the Chief Commissioner of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI), Dr. Michael Wardlow, pointed out in February this year,

Dr. Michael Wardlow, Chief Commissioner of the Equality Commission, said that the case was a reminder that Fair Employment legislation and good equality practices can protect people against discrimination on grounds of their political opinion.

All appointments, including those in the community sector, must be made without reference to a person’s political opinions, or to any other protected ground,” he said.

“It is also important that the procedures for such appointments meet basic standards of fairness and transparency and that they are accountable to scrutiny,” `Dr. Wardlow said. “Procedures which put a particular focus on the need for systematic and objective recruitment have been the building blocks of Northern Ireland’s equality law since it was established.” [added emphasis]

And from the ECNI Head of Policy, Eileen Lavery, on the ECNI blog in April

In McClean –v- Waterside Neighbourhood Partnership Ltd., a job-seeker was not appointed to a post of Community Development Officer, even though he had been the highest marked candidate in an interview process, had exceeded the threshold marking, and had been identified as the person to be appointed. The Tribunal found that he had been unlawfully discriminated against on grounds of his political opinion –  he believed that the control and funding of community activities should be a matter for the communities themselves and not for the main political parties. The Tribunal held his belief to be a political opinion covered by the legislation.

These cases illustrate the breadth of the term political opinion which is protected under the legislation. They also illustrate something else. Employers and service providers need to ensure they comply with what is, after all, one of the most basic principles of equal opportunities – the need to treat people fairly and consistently regardless of personal characteristics which are protected in law – and that includes political opinion. [added emphasis]

If you haven’t read Eamonn’s detailed post in full yet, you should.