Downey: ‘author of his own misfortune’

Garbhan Downey (2806Sl05)
Garbhan Downey (2806Sl05)

The sacked Culture Company Director of Communications was “the author of his own misfortune”, an industrial tribunal has found.

Garbhan Downey was dismissed from his high-profile job in January 2013 after being found guilty of gross misconduct.

The gross misconduct charge was in relation to Mr Downey releasing a letter to the media in October 2012.

This correspondence was from Derry City Council chief executive Sharon O’Connor to Culture Company chief Shona McCarthy.

In it, Ms. O’Connor instructed Ms. McCarthy to transfer the Culture Company’s marketing department to the Council offices at Strand Road. The letter stated that the transfer did not apply to Mr. Downey.

Alongside this letter, Mr. Downey also issued a statement in which he claimed the proposed transfer was happening because the Culture Company was refusing to allow the Council to spend their budget on “non City of Culture projects”.

In the wake of the release of the letter and statement, Mr. Downey was suspended from his job and was subsequently sacked three months later.

Two independent appeals upheld the decision by Culture Company to dismiss Mr. Downey.

He then took a case for unfair dismissal to an industral tribunal in Belfast and it has now emerged that this panel has dismissed his claim.

The panel - whose report is expected to be released publicly today - also dismisses Mr. Downey’s allegation that Ms. O’Connor was staging an “attempted money grab” in relation to Culture Company funds.

Turning to the release of the letter in October 2012, the tribunal panel report states: “We find that the claimant (Mr Downey) was essentially the author of his own misfortune by unreasonably assuming responsibility for something that the [Culture Company] Board and the Chief Executive of the Company already had in hand.

“He did so by unjustifiably going straight to the Press when he had other options for going to other bodies with a direct influence and involvement in relation to the funding issue. We can understand why the employer no longer had trust and confidence in him given his seniority and the obvious sensitivity of the letter he revealed and the very serious, yet unreasonable, allegations he made in public.”

The report adds: “It was very clear that the release of the letter had led to a media storm and negative reporting in relation to the tensions between the Company and the Council just before the Culture year was to start.

“A key point for the appeal panel was the failure by the claimant to consult his line manager Ms McCarthy before going public with the letter and statement.

“This related to the breach of trust charges and their assessment of whether the employer could trust the claimant going forward.

“Looking at the disciplinary and appeal process as a whole, we do not find that there was prejudgement or unfairness undermining the decision to dismiss.”

The report adds: “The key issue in this case was whether the claimant was justified in exposing the tensions between the Company and the Council before the Board had had a chance to meet to decide how to respond.

“The claimant’s actions in usurping the authority of the Board and the Chief Executive in this way was regarded by the respondent as a serious breach of trust given the claimant’s senior position. The respondent’s view of the claimant’s actions was within the band of reasonable responses of a reasonable employer in the circumstances.”

Mr. Downey’s solicitor said: “We’ve received the judgement of the tribunal and are in the process of studying the same. We’re considering an appeal.”

A spokesperson for Derry City Council said while it was happy to bring the issue to a successful conclusion, it was “regrettable the matter had to be resolved through an industrial tribunal.” She said Council was always of the view that the claimant’s dismissal was in keeping with its policies and procedures.