Airport guards who harassed Rangers fans lose jobs fight

Conor Feehanand Helen Bruce

TWO airport security officers, sacked for asking Glasgow Rangers supporters to cover their jerseys, yesterday lost their unfair dismissal case against Dublin Airport Authority.

Celtic fans Kenneth Geary and Frank Flynn were both dismissed for harassing members of the public.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal heard that on July 12, 2003, Geary, from Lorcan Villas, Santry, and Flynn, from Hill Street, Dublin 1, had stopped Rangers fans and told them to remove their football jerseys or cover them up.

The officers said they acted for the Rangers fans' own safety, as there were Celtic fans already in the terminal. But Dublin Airport Authority said they abused their powers as security officers to discriminate on the basis of religion.

The appeals tribunal had also heard that Ken Geary wore a Celtic jersey to the disciplinary hearing, because his Real Madrid strip was "in the wash".

In its determination yesterday, the tribunal said the Airport Authority had "shown substantial grounds justifying the dismissal".

The tribunal also noted there were some "procedural imperfections" in the original dismissal of the men, but that this had been rectified during the internal appeal they had taken.

"There was a conflict of evidence between the witnesses on both sides but, having heard those witnesses, the tribunal prefers to accept the evidence of the respondents' side and the tribunal must therefore reject the evidence of the claimants," the determination said.

A spokesman for Dublin Airport Authority said last night: "The company is very satisfied with this outcome, which underpins the high professional standards of customer care set by Dublin Airport and its employees."

Mr Geary had told the tribunal he wished "to avoid a flashpoint" when he asked the Rangers fans to cover up their jerseys, as he was worried they might cross paths with a group of Celtic supporters who were drinking in an airport bar.

Mr Flynn had also spotted the football fans, and remarked they should not be wearing Rangers jerseys "on the day that's in it", making reference to the July 12 date, the tribunal heard. It was also alleged Mr Flynn and Mr Geary then waited for more than 1½ hours to let the passengers through security.

Catherine Barber, of the airport's security and training unit, said that for staff to have "singled out somebody based on religious beliefs is not acceptable". Supporters of other football clubs were not singled out, she added.

Brendan Daly, general manager of terminal operations at Dublin Airport, told the tribunal he did not believe Frank Flynn's appeal evidence.

"He left his post and challenged these people on the airport shopping street," said Mr Daly. "It was a serious incident. The company could have been held liable."