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Sunday 22 July 2018

Mediation fails to resolve dispute over Irish Countrywomen's Association elections

Patricia Madden, of the ICA (Irish Countrywomens's Association) pictured at the Four Courts yesterday(Wed) for a High Court action. Pic: Collins Courts
Patricia Madden, of the ICA (Irish Countrywomens's Association) pictured at the Four Courts yesterday(Wed) for a High Court action. Pic: Collins Courts

Tim Healy

A legal action over the conduct of elections for the Irish Country Women's Association's national executive has been fixed for hearing next week after efforts to mediate the dispute failed.

The action was initiated by Patricia Madden, who joined the ICA 39 years ago.

A barrister of St Mobhi Road, Glasnevin, Dublin, she claims the organisation breached its constitution when it failed to count ballots cast by its membership in advance of its AGM last May.

She claims the ICA should have declared the winners of the election at the AGM for positions on its national executive board including national president, for a term of office from 2018 to 2021. 

Up to 30 other members have been given permission by the court to be joined as co-plaintiffs to the action but have yet to formally do so. 

The ICA has accepted there are issues in relation to the election which need to be addressed and has made proposals in that regard.

It disputes a range of claims by Ms Madden and opposes various injunctions sought by her.

On Wednesday, the case was mentioned to Ms Justice Una Ni Raifeartaigh who was told efforts to mediate the dispute had failed.

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Ms Madden made a number of complaints, including about a letter circulated by Marie O’Toole of the ICA to members. Ms Madden said that letter described the 30 members as representing less than one per cent of the ICA’s overall membership,  “minimised” and “ostracised” them, and was not the act of someone prepared to embark positively on mediation.

The letter was not “neutral” as counsel for the ICA argued and Ms O’Toole was also not entitled to hold herself out at ICA national president, she said.

She was further concerned an employee’s employment had been terminated and rejected the ICA’s insistence it is “business as usual”.

Ms Madden added she still hoped the matter could be resolved without court intervention.  

Frank Beatty SC, with Brendan Kirwan BL, for the ICA, said it “could not be clearer” there were issues with the 2018 elections and the ICA was prepared to take measures to regularise that, including to hold fresh elections if the membership approved that. 

Ms Madden has no role in the Association and no basis for questioning what it does in relation to its staff and business, he said. It is “business as usual” within the ICA and he disagreed with Ms Madden’s characterisation of Ms O’Toole’s letter which he described as “neutral and short”

That letter was followed by an 18 page letter circulated by Ms Madden which referred to ICA defendants and their personalities, he said.

The judge said the ICA cannot put proposals to the membership before any court decisions in that regard but the sides were free to exchange proposals between them prior to next week’s hearing.

In her action, Ms Madden seeks various injunctions, including restraining the ICA filling any vacancies on its board, until the dispute has been decided. She has said she brought the action so the votes can be counted and the winners declared.

The ICA has undertaken not to destroy the ballot papers for the 2018 elections. 

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