Derry City Council chief wanted Downey ‘out’ - tribunal told

Garbhan Downey
Garbhan Downey

Former City of Culture marketing director Garbhan Downey has claimed that just days before being suspended from his role, he was warned that Derry City Council Chief Executive Sharon O’Connor had plans to “take him out” of the organisation.

Mr Downey has taken a claim for unfair dismissal against the Culture Company to an industrial tribunal which opened in Belfast yesterday.

In his statement to the tribunal this morning, Mr Downey alleged he had been warned by his line manager, Culture Company Chief Executive Shona McCarthy, that two separate senior council officials had told her of Ms O’Connor’s plans to oust him.

According to Mr Downey’s statement, the pair had first clashed over the marketing of the Clipper festival in June 2012.

Mr Downey’s statement to the tribunal refers to an email he sent to the Council and marketing chiefs in May 2012 where he stated that “at no stage” was funding for the City of Culture marketing project to be used to market the Clipper festival.

He said that Ms O’Connor’s written reply to this issue and ongoing marketing spend proved that she was “displeased” with him and that “set the tone for what followed”.

In the letter, Ms O’Connor described Mr Downey’s attitude in his email as “unhelpful”, and she added that if a funding shortfall could not be met by Council or Culture Company, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) would not release funding for the City of Culture year.

Conor Hamill, the barrister representing the Culture Company, put it to Mr Downey: “So because she [Ms O’Connor] does not like the tone or content of an email she says Council will collapse the entire City of Culture project by failing to fulfil their funding requirements?”

“That’s close enough,” Mr Downey replied, claiming that staff at Culture Company perceived the content of the letter to be a direct threat.

Mr Hamill replied that Mr Downey’s claims were “preposterous”.

The hearing is expected to last in excess of five days, with Mr Downey continuing to give evidence and face cross-examination this afternoon.

Martin Bradley, Chairman of the Culture Company, is also scheduled to be called to give evidence.

Mr Downey was controversially sacked by the Culture Company in March this year, five months after being suspended from his position as Director of Communications and Marketing.

Marketing responsibilities for Derry’s tenure as UK City of Culture 2013 were subsequently transferred to Derry City Council.

The case is being heard at The Office of the Industrial Tribunals and the Fair Employment Tribunal (OITFET), Killymeal House, in the Belfast Gasworks Site.