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Sunday 21 September 2014

External expert to probe bullying claims at Solas

Shane Phelan Public Affairs Editor

Published 01/03/2014 | 02:30

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Paul O'Toole, head of Solas
Paul O'Toole, head of Solas

AN external investigator has been appointed to inquire into bullying claims made by a whistleblower at the training and education authority Solas.

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The investigation was confirmed by Solas boss Paul O'Toole in a letter to the Dail's spending watchdog, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The move follows claims in the Dail by PAC chairman John McGuinness that a Solas employee, Una Halliday, was being persecuted and humiliated, and was no longer being given work duties, a telephone or the use of a computer in her office.

Ms Halliday, a Co Louth-based training administrator, previously blew the whistle on dodgy courses being provided by Solas' predecessor FAS.

She exposed the falsification of test results by some tutors in 2009. Her actions prompted a nationwide review of courses which found further irregularities. In a carefully worded letter, Mr O'Toole said an independent external expert was "dealing with matters raised" by Ms Halliday.

It is the second occasion on which Ms Halliday has made a formal complaint against colleagues. On the first occasion she alleged she was victimised for blowing the whistle about the falsification of results.

After a lengthy investigation and arbitration process, FAS agreed a settlement with her last year for a little less than €100,000.

However, subsequent to it being made, Ms Halliday has found herself in conflict with Solas management, which accused her of breaching a confidentiality clause attached to the settlement agreement.

RECOUP

The accusations came after Mr McGuinness and a junior minister received correspondence alleging further issues related to training services.

Solas indicated to Ms Halliday it was considering legal action to recoup the settlement.

It is understood she denies having breached any confidentiality arrangement.

Separate to this dispute, Ms Halliday recently made a series of allegations against colleagues. These were outlined in the Dail last week by Mr McGuinness.

He said Ms Halliday was no longer being given any work to do and did not have access to basic office equipment to do her job. He also claimed she was being "humiliated every day" and was being "shouted at in front of other employees".

The Fianna Fail TD called for "Solas, FAS or whoever is responsible there now, to stop the persecution of this woman".

Mr O'Toole said Solas had "a duty of care to all colleagues who are involved in this process, including the colleague who was named last week". He said: "We intend to continue to discharge our responsibilities to all such colleagues. We strongly advise that no conclusion can or should be drawn at this stage.

"Solas cannot and, specifically, I cannot, comment on a process which is under way as we must await the outcome of the current investigation and any due process which may be required on its completion."

Irish Independent

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