Tribunal: Council HR chief quizzed over email

Garbhan Downey.
Garbhan Downey.

Derry City Council’s HR manager has strenuously denied suggestions that the decision to fire Garbhan Downey had been made in advance of his disciplinary hearing in January of this year.

Speaking at the third day of an industrial tribunal sitting in Belfast, Sinead McNicholl said she “did not accept and took exception to” any suggestion that she had been involved in a predetermined process, saying she acted within the remit of her position at all times.

Ms McNicholl made the comments while being cross-examined on her witness statement by Gerry Grainger, the barrister acting on behalf of Garbhan Downey who has brought a claim for unfair dismissal against the Culture Company.

The former journalist was Director of Marketing and Communications at the Culture Company before being suspended and later dismissed from his post.

Mr Grainger had referred Ms McNicholl to an email she sent to disciplinary appeal panel member Harry McConnell two days before the panel were due to sit.

In the email Ms McNicholl wrote: “I am fully of the opinion that this will go to Industrial Tribunal.”

Mr Grainger put it to the witness that this would have influenced the panel on the outcome of the hearing. He said: “The purpose of an appeal hearing is to ascertain whether a decision should be upheld or overturned. If there is a possibility that it would be overturned then there would be no need to go to an industrial tribunal.

“What you are telling him (Mr O’Connell) is that this case was going to an industrial tribunal.”

Ms McNicholl responded that she had written the email to Mr O’Connell to assure him that she had sought the appropriate advice and taken all appropriate actions during the disciplinary process.

However Mr Grainger countered that this was not the case and that the email served to show that “from the very outset, the decision to dismiss Mr Downey had been predetermined and that you were part of that process.”

The hearing resumes on Thursday morning.