News Courts

Sunday 22 October 2017

Dismissed harbour chief fights Coughlan bully claims

Tim Healy

A FORMER harbour master has claimed in the High Court he was unfairly dismissed following allegations made against him by a number of people, including former Tanaiste Mary Coughlan.

Her complaints included that Patrick J Kelly, who was harbour master of Killybegs in Co Donegal, had piloted boats in the harbour for cash and that he was "a bullyboy".

The High Court heard there was also a reference to the sinking of a boat, and a claim that Mr Kelly had "shot every dog in Donegal town", when Ms Coughlan outlined her concerns to a senior Department of Agriculture official.

However, he was dismissed in 2009 following an investigation into complaints about the performance of his duties, including that he ran a private company from the harbour master's office and provided a service where boats are safely guided in and out of the harbour for financial gain.

It was alleged these actions were in direct contravention of his role as harbour master. Mr Kelly was suspended in October 2004. In September 2009, following an investigation conducted by an official from the Department of the Marine, he was dismissed.

In his High Court action, Mr Kelly, who denies the allegations, says the investigation was a deeply flawed process and unfair on a number of grounds.

Mr Kelly also says he was never made aware of allegations made against him by the former Tanaiste until after the investigation had been concluded.

In proceedings against the Ministers for Agriculture, and Finance, the Government, Ireland and the Attorney General, Mr Kelly is seeking an order quashing the decision to dismiss him and a declaration that the decision to dismiss him was tainted by bias and unfair.

Mr Kelly, of Drumrooske, Donegal town, is also seeking damages.

The state parties have denied all of Mr Kelly's claims.

Opening the case John Rogers SC, for Mr Kelly, said there had been a high degree of material concealed from his client, including records of a meeting held between the then Minister for Agriculture, Mary Coughlan, and a senior department official in October 2004.

Complaints

He knew nothing of the complaints against him at the meeting with the minister until March 2009, following a request made under the Freedom of information Act.

Mr Kelly accepted he had offered pilotage services in the harbour. He did not do this for personal gain, but rather to ensure good and safe management of the harbour.

He accepted he had a small shareholding in a company that provided marine services but his contract of employment did not prohibit him from being involved in such a firm.

The hearing continues.

Irish Independent

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