Sacked marketing director Garbhan Downey has told an industrial tribunal it was never his intention to embarrass the City of Culture project when he went to the media with his concerns about Derry City Council boss Sharon O’Connor.
Mr Downey was suspended from his post with the Culture Company following his approach to the media in October 2012, making public a letter from Ms O’Connor to Culture Company Chief Executive Shona McCarthy about Council’s plans to take over the marketing of the Culture year. He was dismissed in March of this year following a disciplinary hearing and failed appeals process.
It is his contention that he went public with the plans by Council Chief Executive Sharon O’Connor because he feared that she would use funds earmarked specifically for the City of Culture year to fund a shortfall in Derry City Council’s own marketing budget.
Mr Downey has taken the Culture Company to an Industrial Tribunal sitting in Belfast, claiming unfair dismissal.
Giving evidence at the tribunal on Tuesdayafternoon, Mr Downey said: “I went to the press because of the extreme seriousness of the issue. I needed to let the people know what was going on, and there was an imminence to what was happening.”
The letter released to the press revealed that Ms O’Connor planned to move Culture Company marketing staff to Derry City Council premises, but singled out Mr Downey as a member of staff who would not be making the move.
In his statement to the tribunal, Mr Downey alleges that when a Culture Company manager asked what was to become of the former journalist, Ms O’Connor had directed that he be “stuck in a back office somewhere”.
Previously at the hearing, Mr Downey had stated that he believed Ms O’Connor had taken against him earlier in 2012 when he had written an email stating that Culture Company would not contribute any of their marketing budget to the Clipper Homecoming Festival and that matters had deteriorated from that point onwards.
However, under cross examination, Mr Downey stated that his motives in going to the press were “not personal” and “not related to how I had been treated”.
He denied an allegation put to him by Conor Hamill, Counsel for the Culture Company, that he wished “to give the Council as bloody a nose as possible”.
“The last thing I wanted to do was to embarrass the project,” he stated.
However, Mr Downey said he believed Ms O’Connor had actively sought to discredit his ability in the marketing department as a “pretext to corral the budget” of the marketing department.
“We were talking about public money, public jobs and matters of public concern. That is why I went to the press about it,” he said.
Mr Downey is scheduled to complete his evidence to the tribunal this morning. The three-member tribunal panel is also expected to hear evidence from witnesses including veteran trade union activist Eamonn McCann.
The chairman of the Culture Company, Martin Bradley, is also expected to be called to give evidence.