A FORMER Sinn Féin Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA has been awarded £5,500 after a Fair Employment Tribunal found that he had been unlawfully discriminated against on the grounds of political opinion.

Phil Flanagan took a case against the Citizens Advice office in Armagh after he was overlooked for the position of manager, even though the successful candidate did not satisfy the first shortlisting criterion.

It further emerged that Mr. Flanagan had received the highest marks against the selection criteria, when the marks given by the three members of the interview panel were added together.

The chairperson of the interview panel had also felt that the former MLA had scored “significantly higher” than the other candidate against the selection criteria.

When Mr. Flanagan subsequently sought feedback from Citizens Advice, he was informed: “You did not provide sufficient evidence of being able to manage a service ramp-up, you did not provide sufficient evidence of how you would meet customer needs or complete day to day work based on current priorities and demands, including understanding of service delivery at a regional or wider level.”

However, the Tribunal stated that, on any reading of the evidence, “that was not an accurate explanation of events”.

After Mr. Flanagan lodged tribunal proceedings in October 2017, the Citizens Advice denied discriminating against him on the grounds of his political opinion.

Its response stated: “The respondent submits that the reason for the application being denied was due to a previous employment issue.”

But the Tribunal noted that this was the first time that a “previous employment issue” had been mentioned by the Citizens Advice.

Since Barry McElduff, now a former Sinn Féin MP, was one of Mr. Flanagan’s referees, and was disclosed as such on the face of his application form, the Tribunal stated that it was “highly unlikely” that anyone involved in the appointment process would have been genuinely unaware of the claimant’s party affiliation and therefore his political opinion.

The Tribunal further noted that one of the members of the interview panel had stood for election on behalf of the Women’s Coalition in 1996, while a second described his political opinion as varying between “Unionist and disinterest”.

The third, who acted as chairperson, stated that she had no particular political affiliation.

It emerged that, when the interview process had been completed, the chairperson of the panel contacted the then-chief executive of Citizens Advice Northern Ireland Pol Callaghan, a former SDLP MLA.

Mr. Callaghan stated that there had been a press report sometime earlier, possibly in 2014, in relation to the claimant which had referred to a previous employment in Carphone Warehouse.

The Tribunal’s report stated: “None of this was put to the claimant for comment. The claimant, unsurprisingly, has his own version of events in relation to Carphone Warehouse.”

Mr. Callaghan did not give evidence at the hearing, which took place over the course of three days in Belfast.

As Mr. Flanagan clarified during the Tribunal that he was not seeking damages for financial loss, the compensation he received was for injury to feelings.

It was noted: “He is a robust individual who, as he stated, “has suffered worse”. The Tribunal however accepts that he had been and was upset and annoyed by the actions of the respondent which he had previously had held in high regard.”

Mr. Flanagan was awarded a total of £5,500, and interest of £365.26.