Poots 'smokescreen' over candidates

Published Wednesday, 21 November 2012
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Health Minister Edwin Poots' concerns about restricting the pool of candidates for positions on public bodies were a smokescreen to hide his opposition to appointing trade unionists, the High Court heard on Wednesday.

Poots 'smokescreen' over candidates
Health Minister Edwin Poots. (© Pacemaker)

A judge also heard claims that neither Mr Poots nor his permanent secretary appeared to know what was happening on the issue.

The Minister is facing a legal challenge from a former general secretary of NIPSA who failed to obtain a post on the Northern Ireland Social Care Council.

John Corey was turned down after being interviewed for the position specifically advertised as a trade union representative on the regulatory body.

His lawyers claim Mr Poots was irrational and biased in vetoing his appointment after he became Health Minister in May last year.

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

But the court has been 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 to 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.

Earlier last year he was put forward by NIPSA for a trade union post the NISCC, which regulates the conduct of social care workers.

The Department was also seeking to appoint a lay member to the body.

Only this position has been filled. Mr Corey and NIPSA are now jointly seeking a judicial review of the Minister's decision not to appoint a trade unionist onto the NISCC.

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

But the explanation was rejected by Mr Corey's barrister during a detailed criticism of a statement filed by Andrew McCormick, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health.

David McMillen QC contended: "This is, for want of a better word, a smokescreen to hide the fact that the Minister simply doesn't want trade unionists on this panel."

He told Mr Justice Treacy that the affidavit filed in support of Mr Poots did not deal with the central point in the case.

"It's indicative of the fact that nobody in this department knew what was going on - neither the permanent secretary, with the greatest respect to Mr McCormick, nor the Minister," Mr McMillen claimed.

According to the barrister there should have been proper consultation before any new policy was put in place. Mr McMillen suggested his clients could then have lobbied other MLAs and members of the Executive.

"They are deprived of these avenues because this new policy is brought into operation out of the light of public scrutiny and out of the scrutiny and that is unacceptable in this day and age."

Reserving judgment, Mr Justice Treacy pledged: "I will give my decision in this case as soon as I can."

© UTV News
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