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Saturday 3 December 2016

Banker claims he was fired for facing up to bully

Published 14/10/2015 | 02:30

Sean McHugh: Tribunal heard allegations of bullying
Sean McHugh: Tribunal heard allegations of bullying

A banking 'whistleblower' is claiming he was bullied from his job despite 40 years of loyal service.

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Sean McHugh, from Barna, Co Galway, is taking a case of unfair dismissal against his former employer, alleging he was dismissed after making complaints about his manager.

The Employment Appeals hearing in Dublin was told Mr McHugh was a "loyal servant" who had begun working with the lender when he was 17. His gross weekly income was €2,298 in his role as a senior bank manager in the Galway Business Centre.

He maintains that his manager, John Heapes, was a "huge player" in his dismissal.

The tribunal heard that in 2010 the bank conducted a credit review which highlighted "some concerns".

The following year, Seamus O'Sullivan, a manager of the special investigations unit in AIB, was instructed to carry out an internal investigation into Mr McHugh's handling of a number of accounts.

Conflict

The accounts were primarily connected with Galway United Football Club. Mr McHugh was the club's licensing officer - a position he held in a voluntary capacity.

Mairéad McKenna BL, on behalf of the bank, said the concerns centred on a potential "conflict of interest" because of Mr McHugh's "close involvement" with the club.

Mr O'Sullivan said that staff at AIB are expected to take "all reasonable steps" to avoid any situations where a conflict of interest could potentially arise.

He said good practice for a banker with an interest in a club or a client is to "stay at arm's length" from the customer.

Mr McHugh denies any conflict of interest, and said he never had any day-to-day involvement with the running of the club. The tribunal heard Mr McHugh was suspended from AIB in September, 2012. In March, 2014, he was summarily dismissed by the bank.

Ercus Stewart, senior counsel for Mr McHugh, alleged his client, who had "devoted himself to the bank", was "seriously bullied" by his manager, John Heapes, who was made AIB's Acting Head of Galway Business in October, 2010.

"A huge number of allegations of bullying were upheld against the bank's servant, Mr Heapes," he said. "The bullying is relevant to the dismissal."

He said his client was unhappy about the "conduct and treatment of him" and other "junior colleagues subordinate to the management in AIB".

"He was, in effect, a whistleblower on behalf of other people," he added. "He stood his ground and made the complaints knowing that this could affect him. To this day, there has never been an apology given by Mr Heapes or the bank.

"Mr Heapes was not disciplined, sanctioned and, in particular, not dismissed for his bullying of my client."

He told the tribunal Mr Heapes was sent on a "one-day PR training course in Dublin to retrain in how to treat people".

"The bank did nothing else to him," he said. "He is a huge player and a very important witness in the dismissal of my client. My client informed Brendan O'Connor - who was his overall boss in AIB, and who brought about his suspension in September, 2012 - that the bullying was continuing."

However, Mr O'Connor "did nothing about it", he added.

Ms McKenna, on behalf of the bank, stressed it is "absolutely disputed" that Mr Heapes is a "convicted bully".

Mr McHugh, who has found it "almost impossible to get a job" since leaving the bank, is looking to be reinstated.

The unfair dismissal hearing was adjourned and will resume on December 8.

Irish Independent

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