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MP Chris Hazzard singled out for criticism in industrial tribunal case

Sinn Fein's Chris Hazzard. Picture by Hugh Russell.

AN INDUSTRIAL tribunal has found that a government department had 19 instances of "less than best practice" in a single recruitment process.

Former infrastructure minister Chris Hazzard was accused, along with the department, 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, took a tribunal case alleging discrimination.

The tribunal has dismissed Mrs Donaghy's case - a move "welcomed" by Mr Hazzard.

"It is a clear vindication of my position that I acted properly in my role as minister and selected the two candidates solely on the basis of merit," he said.

However, in its ruling, the tribunal said it "shares the concerns identified by (Commisioner for Public Appointments, Judena Leslie) from the audit report issued in June 2017, relating to 19 instances of `less than best practice" about this recruitment process".

"The tribunal has no doubt that the recommendations set out in the said audit report must be fully and properly addressed in any future appointment process by the (department)."

It also singled Mr Hazzard out for criticism, saying he "did not properly apply the criterion, which appeared in the information pack and had been previously approved by him, namely `special knowledge or experience which would be of value to the Commissioners in the discharge of their function including … an understanding of the port's role in the local economy'".

"In particular, in the judgment of the tribunal, (Mr Hazzard) wrongly interpreted `local economy' in this criterion to mean `NI economy/regional economy'," it said.

"The tribunal therefore had considerable sympathy with the claimant who had interpreted, properly in the tribunal's view, this criterion to mean local economy in the sense of Newry and Mourne area, of which she clearly had considerable knowledge and experience."

"....this inevitably gave rise to the claimant’s concern of less favourable treatment."

Mrs Donaghy did not provide enough supporting evidence to prove her claim of gender discrimination.

However, Judena Leslie said she "shares the sympathy expressed by the tribunal for the claimant in this case".

"Whilst the Department for Infrastructure and its minister professed a commitment to diversity and good governance they had failed to put that commitment into action," she said.

"A public body that has only one woman out of a total of eight non-executive Directors on its Board has a difficulty in presenting itself as a modern, talent orientated or values based organisation.

"The Warrenpoint Harbour Authority has work to do in order to attract more women onto its Board.

"There is much for Warrenpoint Harbour Authority and the Department to learn from Ms Donaghy's case and my audit."

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