Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence



  This paper provides guidance on the competition process by which the new Chairman and members of the Parades Commission were appointed, and the parameters used to select the successful candidates.


  2.  The Parades Commission is a statutory body independent of the NIO and is outside the remit of the Commissioner for Public Appointments (the Commissioner). It was decided that the appointment process should, however, generally seek to follow the Commissioner's guidelines as they represent best practice in this area.

  3.  The Commission consists of a Chairman and six other members appointed by the Secretary of State. The Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 Schedule 1, paragraph 2(3) requires that the Secretary of State shall so exercise his powers of appointment as to secure that as far as is practicable the membership of the Commission is representative of the community in Northern Ireland. As the term of office of the then Chairman of the Commission and the then existing six members of the Commission was due to come to an end on 18 February 2000, arrangements were put in place for the appointment of a new Chairman and members.


  4.  On 8 October 1999, the Secretary of State announced the launch of separate competitions for the post of Chairman and for the six posts as members. Advertisements in respect of both competitions were placed in the newspapers. Both competitions were advertised in Northern Ireland and in the Irish Republic, in addition, the Chairman's post was advertised in Great Britain.

  5.  Specified skills and qualities were required for appointment to the Commission and it was expressly stated that the NIO, as appointer, was committed to equality of opportunity and to merit as the basis for appointment.

  6.  In addition to advertising for applications for membership of the Commission, certain other steps were taken to stimulate interest in the competition:

    (a)  The Minister of State on 8 October 1999 wrote to the leaders of all the local political parties and the main churches asking them to encourage anyone they considered appropriate to apply. A copy of the letter and the list of recipients are attached*.

    (b)  Senior officials of the NIO on 8 October 1999 met their counterparts from the Irish Government and asked them to encourage anyone they considered appropriate to apply.

  7.  Whilst the closing date for receipt of applications specified in the advertisements was 5 November 1999, the NIO was made aware, prior to that date, that further applications for the membership would be forthcoming after that date, flowing from the Minister of State's letter of 8 October 1999 to the leaders of the political parties. In fact three applications were received after 5 November 1999. Two of these were, as expected, from persons approached by one of the political parties. The final application was unexpected but it was considered that it would be fair to receive it nonetheless as no action whatsoever had been taken in relation to any of the applications at this stage. The facility provided to receive applications after 5 November 1999 was solely for the purpose of ensuring that as wide a range of application as possible would be received and was offered strictly on the basis that we had reason to believe that applications were forthcoming.

  8.  The Chairman's post, as originally advertised, attracted very little interest and, as a result, was re-advertised offering somewhat more generous terms. In addition to the publicising of the competition as described above, the Cabinet Office was asked to recommend, from its central register of those seeking public appointment, candidates it deemed suitable based on the competences we were seeking. A firm of headhunters was also engaged.


  9.  Interview panels were convened to consider the applications received. That for the Chair consisted of the Permanent Under-Secretary and one of the Senior Directors of the NIO and two persons independent of the Government, one from each side of the community. The panel for the membership consisted of the same Senior Director, one other senior official, and the same two independent members, one male and one female.

  10.  The interview panels had before them the application forms of all candidates (82 for membership, 45 for the Chair) but had no information about candidates' political views or affiliations, save insofar as these had been expressly referred to in or could be inferred from the application forms. Initially, the panels considered the question of shortlisting candidates for interview; it was only after this that the membership panel was told of the religious composition of the shortlist. This involved determining which of the candidates in their view met the essential competences for appointment. These competences were set out in the advertisements as follows:


  Assessing/Evaluating . . . also to evaluate options from complex information and take account of legal constraints, with the capacity to assess the probability of future events, leading to clear and well informed judgements.

  Decision Making . . . capable of responding in controversial situations and determining courses of action under significant time constraints, often during periods of continuous pressure. This requires real intellectual stamina and resilience.

  Team Working . . . a high level of interpersonal skills enabling the individual to work within a diverse group.

  Presentation . . . skilled in presenting issues and judgement in different contexts, including media interviews.


  Leadership . . . The ability to lead a diverse group and to establish his or her authority in the wider community at all levels, including in situations of controversy and pressure.

  Assessing/Evaluating . . . as for member.

  Influencing/Advising . . . Experience in chairing a diverse range of meetings, with good listening skills and an ability to summarise salient points leading to clear and, where possible, consensus decisions.

  Presentation . . . Capacity to set out issues clearly and influence key groups at all levels in the community in face to face contact or via the media.

  Planning . . . Ability to formulate and follow through strategic management objectives.

  Decision making . . . as for member.

  Motivating . . . Possessing a high level of interpersonal skills and the ability to build consensus and motivate others in a range of circumstances.

  10.  In their application forms, candidates had been asked to give an account of how they had demonstrated these competences. Shortlists of 23 candidates for interview for membership and six for Chair were established on the basis of how the candidates met the specified competences. Candidates were called to interview. At the interview the panels asked each of the candidates to give an account of how they demonstrated that they met each of the competences required. The panels then probed each interviewee in respect of the answers which they had provided in each area. The panels then reached a judgement as to the relevance and extent of each individual's experience in the context of potential appointment to the Parades Commission.

  11.  The panel for membership set an overall pass mark for interviewees of 50 per cent with a requirement that each candidate obtained a minimum of 50 per cent in each competence. Both hurdles had to be met. On completion of the interviews initial markings were reviewed to ensure consistency. Candidates were graded from 1 to 23. Sixteen candidates obtained marks above the minimum level required. Candidates for the Chair needed 60 per cent to be considered appointable. All six candidates interviewed scored above this and were graded from 1 to 6.

  12.  The Secretary of State was recommended to appoint the first six members in the ranking order which had been established by the interview panel. He was also provided with information relating to the religious or perceived religious affiliation of those candidates for membership who had marks above the minimum level required, and of any political affiliation declared on the application forms. This information was supplied to him because of the relevance of the statutory requirement to the appointment process. He endorsed the recommendation made to him and those to be appointed were to be approached. He also endorsed the recommendation regarding the Chairman.

  13.  The appointments were to have been publicly announced on Monday 7 February 2000 but, on Thursday 3 February 2000, it became known that one of the persons to be appointed, who was female, was reconsidering her position. Despite efforts to persuade this candidate to give the matter further consideration, on Friday 4 February she gave notice that she had decided to decline an offer of appointment. This upset the balance of the proposed Commission both in terms of religion and gender and required an immediate response, as the expiry of the current Commission's term of office was imminent.

  14.  There was a reserve list of 10 candidates which had been compiled in the manner described at paragraph 11 above. However, as all of the persons on the list were of Protestant background it was not possible to draw on it without endangering further the representativeness of the Commission in terms of religious balance. One of the candidates on the reserve list was female.

  15.  In the circumstances, and bearing in mind the requirements of anti-discrimination law in Northern Ireland, and following consultation with the Secretary of State, it was decided that the Secretary of State had an obligation to consider what practicable steps could be taken to secure the representativeness of the Commission. The five members which it was proposed to appoint consisted of four persons of Protestant background and one of Roman Catholic background. A number of options was urgently considered in consultation with the Secretary of State. Among the options were:

    (a)  Promoting a candidate from the reserve list;

    (b)  Appointing only five members and later running a competition for one member or variants of this option;

    (c)  Re-appointing the current Commission;

    (d)  Approaching directly a suitable person with the necessary competences who could help achieve the statutory requirement.

  The Secretary of State on 4 February 2000 decided that in the exceptional circumstances which had arisen we should approach a person directly who we judged met the necessary competences. On this basis an existing member of the Commission who had not applied for membership was approached but he declined to consider appointment. An approach was then made to Mr Quinn who had considerable experience in the context of the parades issue and had been a facilitator in the talks concerning the Drumcree parade in 1998 and 1999. The Secretary of State met Mr Quinn personally on 7 February 2000 and Mr Quinn indicated that he would accept appointment.

  16.  Because of the difficulties which had been encountered, the announcement of the appointments was put back from 7 February 2000. An account of the appointment process was provided to the Commission for Public Appointments before the appointments were announced and it was explained to her why one of the appointees was appointed by the means described in paragraph 15 above. A response was received from the Commissioner to the effect that she was satisfied that we had made every effort to ensure both that the Commission was representative of the community, as far as practicable, and had been appointed on merit. The appointments were announced on 16 February 2000.


  17.  In the view of the Secretary of State, all of the six persons appointed were suitable for appointment to the Commission and had the necessary competences to carry out the duties of a member. Each appointment was made on merit. In making the appointments overall, the Secretary of State was mindful of the statutory requirement in paragraph 2(3) of Schedule 1 to the Act. The Secretary of State was also mindful, however, of the fact that he could act only within the limits of practicality and lawfulness in seeking to secure the objective of the statutory requirement. The extreme difficulty of achieving an exact mirror image of society in Northern Ireland in a body comprising a Chairman and six members was recognised. This practical reality did not, however, deter the Secretary of State from seeking to fulfil the statutory requirement. In the event, the effect of the appointments is that the Commission has four persons of Protestant background and two persons of Catholic background. When measured against what is arguably the most salient division in Northern Ireland society, the sectarian division, the Commission is representative of the community in Northern Ireland.

  18.  The appointments described in this memorandum are currently the subject of a judicial review being brought by a member of the Garvaghy Road Residents' Coalition, on grounds, primarily, that they do not represent the community of Northern Ireland either in terms of community balance or of gender.

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