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Former Sinn Féin MLA wins fair employment case against Citizens Advice

Phil Flanagan won compensation of £5,500 from Citizens Advice. Picture by Alan Lewis

FORMER Sinn Féin MLA Phil Flanagan has been awarded more than £5,000 after being overlooked for a job with Citizens Advice.

The former Fermanagh and South Tyrone representative, who lost his seat in 2016, scored the highest marks when interviewed in July 2016 for the post of manager at the organisation's Armagh office.

However, a female candidate was appointed to the role, even though she had failed to meet the initial shortlisting criteria.

Mr Flanagan launched a case against the charity, claiming he had been unlawfully discriminated against on the basis of his political beliefs.

Citizens Advice denied the claim, arguing that the former assembly member had failed to secure the job due to a "previous employment issue".

In 2016, Mr Flanagan was ordered to pay damages of £48,750 and apologise to former Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliott after posting a defamatory message on Twitter.

The former MLA, who used the then Sinn Féin MP Barry McElduff as a referee on his job application, represented himself at last month's fair employment tribunal hearing in Belfast.

During evidence to the hearing, interview panel member Lyn Roper claimed Mr Flanagan's responses at interview were "text book", "lacking in feeling" and that he was "quoting answers as opposed to feeling them".

"I mean – you only have to view a piece of drama or poetry and if someone understands and feels the piece it comes over totally differently to someone who just stands up and reads it without feeling," she told the tribunal.

"This was the way I feel about (Mr Flanagan's) answers – I cannot say anything else just the way it felt.”

In its findings the tribunal noted that the interview was not a poetry or drama competition, or an analysis of whether the candidates had emoted sufficiently.

Ms Roper's evidence was later suspended because she felt unwell during cross-examination by the complainant.

In its findings, the tribunal panel concluded that the one-time Women's Coalition election candidate's evidence was "unconvincing".

The tribunal also highlighted the role of Pól Callaghan, a former SDLP MLA for Foyle and the then regional chief executive of Citizens Advice, who did not give evidence during the three-day hearing.

It emerged that Mr Flanagan had failed to complete part of a declaration on the application and ahead of the job interview the panel had tried unsuccessfully to contact Mr Callaghan to establish the correct protocol.

After the interview was completed, Mr Callaghan was contacted and referred to a previous press report that alleged Mr Flanagan had left a past job with Carphone Warehouse before the completion of a disciplinary process.

However, this allegation was not put to the former Sinn Féin MLA and the press report was accepted as accurate and was not queried.

The tribunal noted that the report was not produced as evidence.

The tribunal's decision paper notes that Mr Callaghan did not attend the hearing to give evidence.

"It is notable that Mr Callaghan's involvement in this matter had not been disclosed by any of the respondent's witnesses in their witness statements which had comprised their evidence in chief," the tribunal panel said, noting that his role only emerged during another witness's cross-examination.

Mr Flanagan was awarded £5,500.

Mr Callaghan was unavailable for comment.

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