Council’s HR chief ‘unaware’ of staff move

Derry City Council.
Derry City Council.

Derry City Council’s Human Resources Chief has told the Tribunal investigating the dismissal of Garbhan Downey from the Culture Company that she had not been aware that a letter had been sent out outlining plans to move the City of Culture marketing staff to Strand Road, and for Council to take control of the marketing budget.

Sinead McNicholl told the three strong panel at today’s hearing that she had a “vague recollection” of being made aware that she might “have to assist with something over the coming weeks and months in relation to marketing”. But she said she had not been consulted by Council Chief Executive Sharon O’Connor about the letter issued on October 3 outlining those plans to Culture boss Shona McCarthy.

The letter also stated that Mr Downey, the director of marketing and communications with Culture Company, would not be transferring along with his five-strong marketing team. Mr Downey has said the move prompted him to go to the media with his concerns about the possible re-direction of Culture funds. He was later dismissed from his post.

Ms McNicholl said the first she became aware of the dissatisfaction of Culture staff with the proposals was when she received a number of emails after Mr Downey went to the press.

Ms McNicholl said she was working away from the office that day and received an email to say that Mr Downey had been suspended.

“Of course I had concerns that I had not been advised of this process,” she said, adding that from this point on - as HR manager - she oversaw the disciplinary process.

While she told the Tribunal she had not been involved in the appeal hearing, she did concede that she advised Culture Company chairman Martin Bradley on the logistics of the process, suggested a panel member and contacted that person.

Concerns were put to Ms McNicholl that she had “adjusted the disciplinary procedure” to suit the needs of Council, and that she had acted in the best interests of Ms O’Connor. She replied that she “strongly denied any allegations that she was acting as an agent” for the Council chief.

She said: “I conducted myself in a fair, reasonable and appropriate manner and in no way did I influence or attempt to influence the decisions taken during the investigation, disciplinary or appeal stages.”