Northern Ireland

Edwin Poots 'acted unlawfully' over failure to appoint trade unionist

NI health minister Edwin Poots acted unlawfully over the failure to consider a senior trade unionist for a public body position, a judge has ruled.

Mr Justice Treacy found in favour of a former general secretary of NIPSA who unsuccessfully applied for the Northern Ireland Social Care Council.

John Corey was turned down after being interviewed for the position.

It was specifically advertised as a trade union representative on the regulatory body.

In a legal challenge to the decision his lawyers claimed Mr Poots was irrational and biased in vetoing his appointment after he became health minister in May 2011.

Two other processes started under his ministerial predecessor, Michael McGimpey, for the Blood Transfusion Service and the Council for Nursing and Midwifery had also sought trade union members.

But the court was told none were appointed by the time Mr Poots came to consider candidates.

Mr Corey served as general secretary of NIPSA, Northern Ireland's largest public sector union, from 2003-2010.

He has also been on the boards of the Belfast Harbour Commissioners, the Training and Employment Agency and the Staff Commission for Education and Library Boards.

In July 2011 he was appointed a member of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.

He was put forward by NIPSA for a trade union post on NISCC, which regulates the conduct of social care workers.

Discretion

The department was also seeking to appoint a lay member to the body. Only this position was filled.

Mr Corey and NIPSA jointly sought a judicial review of the minister's decision not to appoint a trade unionist onto NISCC.

Counsel for Mr Poots said that he did not want to narrow the pool of candidates by ring-fencing positions.

But Mr Corey's barrister said the explanation was a smokescreen to hide the minister's opposition to having trade unionists on the panel.

Delivering judgment, Mr Justice Treacy acknowledged Mr Poots had a discretion to appoint whoever he wanted.

But the judge held that public law obligations generated by the published notice in the process remained in place.

He ruled: "The frustration of those obligations by the minister was unlawful."

The judge set out a "belated" statement from one of Mr Poots' officials which stressed his desire to achieve the optimum appointment.

"However, at no stage was this ever put forward as a reason for the minister's decision prior to her affidavit being filed," Mr Justice Treacy said.

"There is nothing to suggest there was the slightest concern as to the pool of candidates, or that the competition had not brought forward outstanding candidates."

Further reasons for the verdict are to be contained in a written judgement due to be issued at a later date.

Mr Justicer Treacy will then determine the appropriate remedy in the case.