THE Northern Ireland Housing Executive, set up to eliminate religious discrimination in the allocation of council homes, yesterday began an internal investigation after a report found it had employed an unqualified Protestant instead of two experienced Catholics.
One of the two men, who received an apology and an offer of five-figure compensation for the discrimination, said that the province's Fair Employment Commission should be involved in any inquiry because of the way executive officials had attempted a cover-up. Yesterday the executive defended its record on employment but said it regretted the affair, which took place in 1990.
The men, Joseph Maguire and Hugh Lewsley, had been working for the executive as glaziers on temporary contracts and were interviewed for permanent posts, which required a three-year apprenticeship and two years' experience.
Shortly afterwards Mr Lewsley discovered that one of the jobs had gone to a Protestant who had worked as an unskilled labourer and painter. He complained to the Fair Employment Commission, which investigated the claim of discrimination at a tribunal.
It said the two Catholics were much better qualified than the Protestant, and that at his interview the panel had been 'over generous'. It criticised the way documents had been concealed or destroyed once it became apparent there would be a tribunal.
Yesterday Mr Lewsley accused officials of 'dirty dealing' regarding the alleged cover-up. He said: 'The irony is that the Housing Executive was formed to stop religious discrimination in housing. But here we have the same body itself guilty of religious discrimination in employment.'
A spokesman for the executive said it would examine the tribunal's findings.