Sunday 23 November 2014

Colleges shell out €7m for bitter internal staff disputes

DANIEL Mcconnell Chief Reporter

Published 12/07/2009 | 00:00

Irish colleges have wasted in excess of €7m dealing with bitter and complex internal staff disputes despite the recession, new figures obtained by the Sunday Independent reveal.

Several universities have been involved in lengthy disputes with members of staff and new information reveals an alarming number of bullying and harassment claims from within the country's leading colleges.

Well-placed sources have revealed that over 30 complaints of bullying and harassment are being investigated in several of Ireland's colleges.

Fine Gael's education spokesman Brian Hayes has called on Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe to force the colleges to engage in mediation before wasting money on expensive court cases.

Last week, Dublin City University went to the Supreme Court to try to sack one of its professors, despite being told in the High Court that it acted illegally. To date, DCU has spent around €1.5m in costs and legal fees to deal with the case in which it sought to dismiss Professor Paul Cahill, who disputes the college's claims.

Athlone Institute of Technology has spent over €840,000 in dealing with complaints of bullying and harassment since 2000.

A total of €841,190 was spent by the institute since 2000 on costs relating to the handling of allegations of bullying and/or harassment, including one out-of-court settlement amounting to €54,450. The €840,000 was spent on administration of eight formal complaints of bullying/harassment lodged with the institute, meaning an average of €105,000 was spent in dealing with each case. The institute said that no informal complaints of bullying or harassment had been made since 2000.

The total cost included €340,246 on legal fees, €140,778 on investigation and mediation fees, €291,909 on stenography services and €13,357 on the hire of facilities.

Trinity College Dublin has for several years now been embroiled in a costly dispute with one of its most distinguished English academics, Dr Gerald Morgan. To date the college has said that its legal fees on the case amount to over €100,000 but it is thought to have spent more than €300,000 on the Morgan case. Dr Morgan has denied any wrongdoing.

A number of years ago, University College, Dublin, handed out over €40,000 in payments to a staff member who accused one of her male colleagues of harassment.

This money was on top of significant legal and other associated costs racked up in the handling of the case.

Brian Hayes, Fine Gael's education spokesman, said it is no longer acceptable that the taxpayer should have to shell out on these lengthy disputes and called on Mr O'Keeffe to ensure such rows are not allowed to fester.

He said: "The only ones who win are the lawyers and those who get the payouts. Why the hell should taxpayers be expected to pick up the tab for all this mess?"

Mr O'Keeffe's spokesman said that there are considerable processes in place within the colleges to deal with such bitter disputes, but conceded that sometimes they can be costly to deal with.

He told the Sunday Independent: "People have rights and they're entitled to due process. We must always respect and appreciate that. Allegations of bullying and harassment, by their nature, can sometimes be lengthy and costly to investigate.''

"Of course, it would be desirable that any employer, whether public or private sector, would strive to have well developed human resources structures in place in order to avoid such cases arising in the first place," he said.

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