Northern Ireland

Victims Commissioner candidate claims rejected

Victims Commission logo
Image caption Ms Breen Smyth believed that if a single commissioner was appointed, it could only have been her

An industrial tribunal has rejected claims by an academic that she suffered unlawful discrimination by the Office of First and Deputy First Minister.

Marie Breen Smyth took the action when she was not appointed to the role of Victims Commissioner.

She had claimed discrimination on the grounds of religious belief, political opinion and sex.

Ms Breen Smyth based her case on the claim that if a single commissioner was appointed, it could only have been her.

Initially the recruitment process was focused on making a single appointment, but that was later changed by OFMDFM.

She alleged that the change in the process was made to avoid appointing her.

Ms Breen Smyth applied for the commissioner role in February 2007.

At that time the legal framework for the job envisaged one commissioner.

The minister responsible for making the appointment was the Secretary of State.

Combined score

Ms Breen Smyth was interviewed by a selection panel and, along with five other candidates, her name went forward to the minister.

She received the highest combined score at the interview stage. However these scores were not used to rank the candidates, only to establish if they had reached the necessary standard.

By this stage, with the restoration of devolution, responsibility for the appointment had passed from the Secretary of State to OFMDFM.

At some stage Ms Breen Smyth was contacted by a journalist who told her she was the successful candidate.

Then in July 2007 OFMDFM decided to extend the process.

Civil servants advised against this but the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments accepted that there could be a second selection process.

Under that process those candidates who had already been deemed suitable would not have to undergo a second interview.

The interviews took place in November 2007 and a further three candidates were deemed suitable.

Of the total of nine candidates, two dropped out and the remaining seven made a presentation to Ian Paisley, Martin McGuinness, Gerry Kelly and Ian Paisley jnr.

In January 2008 OFMDFM said they wanted to appoint four commissioners which the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments accepted.

Unsuccessful

Ms Breen Smyth was one of the four successful candidates. The four were contacted and asked if they would act as Commissioners Designate while the legal framework was adjusted.

The other three successful candidates were Mike Nesbitt, Patricia McBride and Bertha McDougall.

Ms Breen Smyth expressed concern about the new arrangements, saying that four posts would mean additional costs as well as management difficulties.

She considered the post of Commissioner Designate unworkable.

Another letter was sent to the candidates asking them to accept the role.

Ms Breen Smyth did not accept the offer and asked for further information.

At this stage she felt that she was in a process of negotiation.

OFMDFM then approached another candidate, Brendan McAllister, who accepted.

The tribunal found that OFMDFM was entitled to extend the recruitment process and did so fairly.

It also found that while Ms Breen Smyth was a good candidate, there was no evidence that she was the best candidate.

In terms of believing she was in a process of negotiation, the tribunal found "she appears to have been attempting to call the respondent's bluff in circumstances that the respondent was not bluffing."

The tribunal also remarked on the lack of detailed notes or minutes in regard to the decision-making by the first or deputy first minister, but declined to draw any inference from that state of affairs.

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