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Former Sinn Féin minister Chris Hazzard accused of sex discrimination over Warrenpoint Harbour Authority appointment

Former Sinn Féin Infrastructure minister Chris Hazzard denies discrimination. Picture by Hugh Russell.

FORMER Infrastructure minister Chris Hazzard has been accused of discriminating against the only female candidate in the final pool of applicants to the board of the authority overseeing one of Ireland's busiest ports.

Geraldine Donaghy and Bob McCann were both replaced as non-executive directors on the board of Warrenpoint Harbour Authority (WHA) in October 2016 following a public appointment process run by the department, with the final choice made by the Sinn Féin minister.

Mrs Donaghy, who had been one of just five female applicants in a field of 37, is taking an employment tribunal case alleging discrimination.

A tribunal heard yesterday that she was the only woman who made it to the final six names that were forwarded to the minister for consideration, and that the decision not to appoint her means there is now just one woman on the board.

An investigation into the process by the Commissioner for Public Appointments Northern Ireland carried out in June said the outcome "in terms of Board diversity was very disappointing".

The commission said "all decision makers involved in this public appointment process were aware that the then current Warrenpoint Harbour Authority suffered from a low level of representation of women... (and) there was an onus on those involved in the decision making process... to take vigorous legitimate action to improve the situation".

The department and Mr Hazzard, who are co-respondents in the case, both deny discriminating against Mrs Donaghy when they appointed Deep Sagar and Richard Johnston to the board.

However, Mrs Donaghy, who is representing herself in the proceedings, told the tribunal that she was "better qualified on the stated skill set" sought in the application for the post and is alleging that "additional criteria was introduced in their consideration of" Mr Johnton, a leading economist.

That criteria, she said, "was knowledge of the Northern Ireland economy which wasn't listed in the published job specification".

Mrs Donaghy is further alleging that a series of errors were made in the marking and summation of applicant interviews which taken together combined to discriminate against her candidacy.

"Three or four mistakes were made and all affect me, the sole female candidate," she told the tribunal.

"A reasonable person would say `hold on, you can understand and accept one mistake, but there are three or four mistakes there'."

Aidan Sands, barrister for the department and Mr Hazzard, asked if taking Mr Johnston's economic expertise into account was discriminatory, "is it an act of discrimination against (the other male candidates)?"

"...All things being equal, if there are very few women applying (you) expect that there are not going to be many female successful candidates.

"(They) have to give the best person the job and their sex is irrelevant," he said.

The hearing continues.

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