Tuesday 12 December 2017

Bid to jail Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney ‘may be soon’

Ray Managh

A BID may be made soon to jail Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney for contempt of court, the High Court heard today.

Mr Justice John Hedigan was told that papers had already been prepared to facilitate an application for the Minister to be brought to court for attachment and committal to prison.

Barrister Patrick O’Reilly, S.C., senior counsel for two Department of Agriculture employees who allege they were double-crossed in an appointments agreement, told the court he had prepared a motion for attachment and committal of Mr Coveney.

He told Judge Hedigan that he firstly wanted to consider a letter from the Department and to obtain more information about positions that had been filled by someone else.

The Minister has denied that he breached an undertaking given to the High Court.

Technical agricultural officers Vincent Gormley and James Scott had taken a court action earlier this year alleging that they should be redeployed as Assistant Inspectors.

Judge Hedigan heard today that on July 30 the Minister had given an undertaking to the court that he would not appoint people to the Inspectors posts as advertised on April 12 or until the court challenge by Gormley and Scott had been determined.

When the case came up before Judge Hedigan today Mr O’Reilly, for both men, said it seemed the positions in question had been filled following the undertaking given by Mr Coveney.

 

“While I have had prepared a motion for attachment and committal I want firstly to consider a letter from the Department and need more information about the positions that have been fille,” he said.

 

Mr O’Reilly asked the court to adjourn the proceedings until after a hearing by the Labour Relations Commission next month.  The dispute had been subject to talks between the Department and the men’s trade union IMPACT.

Eugene Regan,S.C., senior counsel for the Minister, said he strongly objected to a suggestion of a breach of an undertaking.  The undertaking, he said, had related to an external advertisement process while the issue before the court related to an internal advertisement process.

Mr Regan said the Labour Relations Commission process might help resolve the matter.

Gormley and Scott were employed by the Department since 1998 and 2001 respectively but had been formally told in July 2011 that they were surplus to requirements.

Both men, with addresses in Co Galway, were highly qualified for the positions in question.

 

Mr Gormley’s case is that under the Croke Park Agreement, redeployment took precedence over recruitment, transfers and promotions unless special skills were required.

 

He said the Public Appointments Service should have been but had not been notified he and Mr Scott were available for redeployment.

 

In late 2012 the Department publicly advertised for Assistant Agricultural Inspectors and had stipulated that candidates had to hold a first or second class honours degree in Agriculture Science or equivalent qualification.

 

Both men claimed to have the necessary qualifications for the higher posts and should have been redeployed to them.  They had applied for the positions in both external and internal competitions.

Judge Hedigan allowed the proceedings to stand adjourned.

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