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Refusal to employ due to actions taken to support political opinion is not unlawful

Refusal to employ due to actions taken to support political opinion is not unlawful

In McConkey & Anor v The Simon Community, the House of Lords held that political opinion does not include an opinion which condones the use of violence for political ends. Therefore an employer in Northern Ireland did not commit an act of discrimination on grounds of political belief when it refused to employ individuals previously convicted of violent acts for political ends.

Discrimination on the grounds of religious belief or political opinion  is unlawful in Northern Ireland under the Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 (the Order). Mr McConkey and Mr Marks (Mc&M)had both been convicted of serious offences of violence while they were supporting the Republican cause during the Troubles in Northern Ireland and had been sent to prison as a consequence.

The Simon Community (SC) is a charity helping the homeless. The majority of those getting assistance leave their homes primarily because of the threat of paramilitary action against them. Mc&M were refused employment with SC as support workers when the Simon Community learnt of their criminal convictions.

Mc&M’s claims that they had been discriminated against on the ground of their former political opinion were rejected by the Fair Employment Tribunal and their appeal to the Court of Appeal failed. The House of Lords has also dismissed their appeal. Their Lordships held that the Order is concerned with discrimination against someone on the basis of the religious belief or political opinion which he or she holds. It is not concerned with discrimination on the ground of actions that the person may take in support of that religious belief or political opinion.

In this case the SC had not discriminated in any way. It had refused to employ two men who had approved of the use of violence to further Republican ends because of the charity’s concern that employing them might pose risks for the vulnerable people for whom the charity cared. SC would equally have refused to employ someone who approved of violence to further Loyalist ends. A refusal to employ because of their violent past is not discrimination and is not prohibited.

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For more information about the equality and diversity services the Employment Law Group can offer, please contact

Makbool Javaid
Partner
Head of Employment Law
Tel:  020 3206 2745
Mob: 07817 805315
makbool.javaid@smab.co.uk

Ewan Keen
Partner
Tel: 020 3206 2724
Mob: 07870 942622
ewan.keen@smab.co.uk

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