Tuesday, June 13, 2017

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Discrimination In Derry

Eamonn McCann with a meticulous piece detailing a discrimination case against Derry man, Gary McClean.

An organisation which plays a key role in distributing public money to community organisations in Derry has been found guilty of discriminating against a local man because of his opposition to what he calls a “Sinn Fein/DUP carve-up” of community organisation in the city.

The Waterside Neighbourhood Partnership (WNP) has been ordered by a Fair Employment Tribunal to pay Gary McClean £10,000 compensation for denying him a job as a Community Development Officer (CDO) even though he’d been the only candidate to achieve the required score at interview.

The explanations for McClean’s rejection given by four directors of the WNP were dismissed by the Tribunal as “evasive,” “unconvincing,” “deliberately misleading,” “not credible,” “making absolutely no sense,” etc.

The Tribunal also criticised sharply the role of an official of the Department of Social Development (DSD - now the Department of Communities) who had been present as an observer during the short-listing and interview processes. The Tribunal characterised parts of her evidence as “evasive” and “not credible.”

The Tribunal heard from 10 witnesses over four days last December. The report, published on February 20th, runs to 59 close-spaced foolscap pages, totalling close on 30,000 words.

McClean has been a community worker in the North-West for a number of years, variously as a volunteer and on a full-time paid basis, mainly in the Waterside area, particularly in Curryneirin and Tullyally. Curryneirin is a Nationalist estate at the edge of the Waterside. It lies a short distance from Unionist Tullyally. Both are marked by palpable economic deprivation. Over the years, tension along the interface has occasionally flared into violence.

A decision of the DSD in March 2014 that funding for the Curryneirin CDO position would be routed through the WNP, rather than, as with previous funding for community positions in the area, through the Curryneirin Community Association, was to become and remains a bone of contention.

McClean insisted to the Tribunal that the DSD’s recognition of the WNP as the “official” representative of Curryneirin for funding purposes was part of the process of dividing disadvantaged areas between the two main parties.

Neighbourhood Partnerships were set up in 2004 across the most deprived 10 percent of wards in the North. The stated purpose was to improve the quality of life in the areas concerned. The DSD’s position from the outset was that:

It is neither possible nor appropriate for DSD to specify in detail what mechanisms should be put in place locally - the structure of the NP's (sic.) may differ from one Neighbourhood Renewal area to another and arrangements made at local level should reflect local needs and structures.

The structures and modes of operation of individual NPs are not always clear to outsiders. Approval by the Department doesn’t require conformity with any prescribed model.

The Tribunal reported that:

(McClean) describes himself as a socialist, who is critical of Sinn Fein and who is critical of what he alleges is an agenda between Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party to carve up influence (and funding) between themselves in segregated areas.

The nub of McClean’s complaint was that it was on account of these views that he was rejected for the Curryneirin post.

The Tribunal heard that a year after the DSD’s decision to re-route funding for the Curryneirin position through the WNP, a report into relations between the WNP and the CCA was commissioned from St. Columb’s Park House (SCPH), a “peace-building” centre in the Waterside, into relations between the WNP and the CCA.

A former chairman of the CCA, Stephen Gallagher, told the Tribunal that community organisation in Curryneirin had managed to remain independent of “any political organisations” for the past 15 years. However, he said that he had felt “harassed” by Alison Wallace, strategy manager and director of the WNP, to invite representatives of Sinn Fein to CCA meetings.

The Tribunal quoted the SCPH report:

The Curryneirin Committee have felt powerless and that no one listens to them…Ms. Wallace is in a position of power with access to public money…This case raises the question about the centralisation of power with one person. Whoever this person is and however fair and consistent they are, it is questionable whether this amount of power should not (sic.) be held with one position and one person.

The WNP had advertised the Curryneirin job in April 2015. Three applicants were selected for interview. The interviews took place on 5 June 2015, before a panel comprising three WNP directors - strategy manager Wallace and WNP co-chairs Geraldine Doherty and William Lamrock. Lamrock chaired the panel. DSD official Geraldine Boggs sat in and took notes.

When the interview scores were totted up, only McClean had reached the set threshold of 59 marks from a possible 70. Each of the panel members signed a document recording the marks of each interviewee. The marks were then collated. The collated document referred to McClean as the “person appointed.” The following month, however, McClean was told that he had not been appointed, that the competition was being re-run and that he could apply again. McClean did not apply a second time but instead lodged the complaint which was to be the subject of the Tribunal hearing.

Both Wallace and fellow-panel member Geraldine Doherty suggested to the Tribunal that they had been pressurised by Lamrock into giving McClean higher marks than they otherwise would and that this had later made them uneasy about giving McClean the job. Doherty said that she had been made to feel “very uncomfortable” during the interviews. Wallace said that Lamrock “can be unpleasant at times … is very overbearing and … can cause difficulties for you.”

Both women also suggested that Lamrock had boosted his own marks for McClean because they had had a previous working relationship.

The Tribunal pointed out in its report that none of these complaints had been made at the time or in the course of the many exchanges between WNP directors in the period between the interviews and the commencement of the fair employment proceedings. The complaints had appeared for the first time in witness statements to the Tribunal.

This suggests that this allegation (of favouritism), like the allegation of bullying, is something that has only occurred to Ms. Wallace and Ms. Doherty relatively recently.

The Tribunal examined the marks awarded to McClean for each question by each panel member and concluded that there was “no startling difference” between Lamrock’s marks and those given by Wallace and Doherty. The Tribunal noted that it was Wallace who had written in McClean’s name as the “person appointed.”

Following signing of the collation sheet, the three panellists had continued discussion about the position. Lamrock was first to leave. He was explicit to the Tribunal that he had left in the clear, firm belief that the matter was finalised - McClean had been appointed.

Discussion continued in Lamrock’s absence for a further few minutes. It was at this point that Wallace and Doherty’s concerns appear to have emerged. The Tribunal reported:

It appears that despite the clear markings recorded by Ms. Doherty and Ms. Wallace and despite the clear terms of the collation sheet, those two interview panel members for some reason had decided that the claimant was not to be appointed.

DSD representative Boggs claimed that she had not been aware when she left the interview room that it had been decided and recorded that McClean had been appointed. She had not seen the individual scoring sheets or observed the compilation of the “collation” sheet noting McClean as the “person appointed.” When the signed sheet containing the phrase was put to her in cross-examination, she responded: “I can see that it is written there."

The Tribunal commented:

She had been sitting at the same table as the interview panel and yet claims not to have seen the completion and signing of the collation sheet. Completion and signing of that sheet must have taken some minutes.

The Tribunal described the DSD woman’s evidence on this point as “simply not credible.”

In relation to Wallace and Doherty’s claims of bullying, Boggs said that Lamrock had been “quite forthright,” “vocal” and “wanted a higher score.” In contrast, the “two girls were quieter.” Asked why she had not previously mentioned any of this if she’d thought it significant, she replied, “I did not think it was my role.”

The Tribunal commented:

Again, this evidence is not credible. Given the expenditure of public funds, her role had been to act as an observer on behalf of DSD. This had not simply been a matter of timekeeping and counting questions. If bullying or favouritism had taken place, it had been her role to report it. She did not. She did not even make any adverse comment in her notes, which she had then destroyed anyway.

None of Wallace, Doherty and Boggs had recorded any complaint about Lamrock’s allegedly “overbearing”, “bullying” etc. behaviour until giving evidence last December.

Asked whether there could be any interpretation of the signed collation sheet other than the obvious - that McClean had won top marks and it had been decided on this basis to appoint him - Boggs replied, “probably not.”

“That response was evasive,” said the Tribunal. “No other interpretation of the collation sheet was possible. Her answer should have been a straightforward ‘No.’”

Boggs said in evidence that she had destroyed her notes immediately after the interviews. The Tribunal noted that, “She was unable to explain the purpose of destroying the notes.”

Another WNP director, Karen Mullan, gave evidence that on the day of the interviews or the day afterwards, Doherty had told her in the course of an unminuted discussion that she had “concerns” about the interviews. The Tribunal noted that these concerns of Doherty’s had not been mentioned by Mullan in her witness statement, or referred to by her at all, until mentioned in cross-examination before the Tribunal.

Mullen is a member of Sinn Fein. She is also manager of the main community group in the Nationalist Top of the Hill area of the Waterside.

The weeks following the interviews saw a furry of emails about McClean and the Curryneirin job between the three panel members, Mullan and another WNP director, Linda Watson.

On June 12, Lamrock wrote to his fellow panel-members: “We need to call a meeting of the Company as there are risks and issues for us in this matter.” But no such meeting was held. The Tribunal commented that any such meeting would have involved only four individuals - Lamrock, Wallace, Doherty and Mullan.

It seems odd that a meeting of those four individuals proved impossible. If such a meeting had been held, there could have been a full discussion between Mr. Lamrock and the other two interview panel members.

Wallace wrote to Doherty and Lamrock on July 6, again making the point that “two of the panel had major concerns” and that one had suggested calling McClean back for a follow-on interview.

Lamrock replied later the same day:

It needs to be made clear that the recruitment was run and scoring completed…A threshold of 59 marks was set….Two candidates had scored below this and one had achieved 65 marks approx…The collation sheet was prepared and all three interviewers signed it…This brought an end to the process….WNP Company is opening itself to risk if we overturn a process based on perception and not hard facts from the interview.

On the following day, Mullan wrote to all parties suggesting again that, “If two out of three interviewers are not happy with the candidate I think we should go back out to re-advertisement.”

Wallace responded: “I agree we should not appoint someone that two out of three interview panel members believe based on the interview is not suitable for the job.”

Lamrock replied:

There was a successful candidate. Now for that decision to be overturned there must be a strong reason based on fact that will stand up to scrutiny. Otherwise the company would open itself to risk. I am not prepared to do that. This is public funds…

When told that he had not been appointed, McClean asked for feedback and for the interview notes. However, the Tribunal recorded, the notes forwarded to McClean by Wallace\;

had a significant part removed without any indication that that part had been removed. In particular, that part recording the setting of the threshold marking of 59 marks and the blank space where the interviewers would have completed their names…The only explanation that Ms. Wallace had put forward was that she had been advised that the names of the interviewers should not be related directly to each scoring sheet. However, since the place for the names had been blank in the original forms, there was absolutely no reason for the deletion other than the obvious reason of avoiding telling the claimant that the threshold marking had been set at 59 marks and that therefore he had exceeded the threshold mark.

The Tribunal described Wallace’s evidence as “unconvincing and evasive.”

Another WNP director, Linda Watson, told the Tribunal that she had been informed in an email from Wallace a few days after the interviews of the facts relating to McClean’s interview and non-appointment and of the concerns of Wallace and Doherty. But, the Tribunal recorded:

At no stage had she asked for sight of the collation sheet or for any of the documentation … She merely stated that she had taken it that ‘what Ms. Wallace told me was the truth.’

The Tribunal found that, “In short, Ms. Watson’s evidence was not credible.”

Watson is a prominent campaigner for the DUP in Derry. She works as coordinator of a community organisation in the Unionist Caw/Nelson Drive area.

Doherty accepted in cross-examination that she had been an active member of Sinn Fein in the Mountainview area of the Waterside, where McClean, too, lived. Both had worked in community positions in Mountainview.

She stated however that she knew very little about him. That was unconvincing. This had been a small area in a small city where both individuals had been involved in community work for lengthy periods.

One possible implication of Doherty knowing little about McClean was that she couldn’t, then, have held his political attitudes against him when considering his job application.

Doherty is a former secretary of the Sinn Fein branch which covers Mountainview. When asked whether she knew of any other Sinn Fein members in the small Mountainview estate she replied: “Not to my knowledge” and then that she “couldn’t possibly say.” The Tribunal remarked that this “seemed evasive.”

Doherty repeatedly insisted that she had no knowledge of the North West Social Forum (NWSF), of which McClean. itemising his experience in his job application, said he been coordinator. She was “absolutely sure” that she had never heard of this organisation. She was then shown a copy of McClean’s job application in which his employment by the NWSF between 2002 and 2005 was highlighted under the heading “relevant experience.” She explained that she had read “most of” the application, but “not in any real detail.” She agreed that she had had the application form in front of her during the interview.

The Tribunal found it:

not credible that Ms. Doherty had not read that part of the application form which referred to relevant experience…If she had taken the short-listing and interview processes seriously, she would have read the form in full.

It was “particularly implausible” that she had not read this section, given that “she now states that she had been concerned about the claimant’s experience.”

McClean believes that part at least of the reason his years with the NWSF had been ignored or discounted was that Sinn Fein at that time didn’t accept the PSNI as a legitimate police force and objected to the NWSF working and liaising with the force.

“They knew I couldn’t be counted on to fall in with the party line. That was the problem.”


Niall said...

Meticulous to say the least. Seems to be more a comedy of errors coupled with that of their own stupidity in cross-examination lead to the tribunals finding and not the exposure of the truth.