Friday 24 November 2017

State faces €1m bill for dismissal claim at sport body

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

THE taxpayer is facing an estimated €1m legal bill for a dispute that has rocked Irish athletics.

The Irish Independent has learned that Mary Coghlan, the former chief executive of the Athletics Association of Ireland (AAI), will be paid €309,000 compensation after settling her case for invalid dismissal against the AAI and the Irish Sports Council (ISC).

In addition to the €309,000 payment to Ms Coghlan -- who the High Court heard had faced "resistance and hostility" from two of the most powerful men in Irish sport -- legal costs are estimated to be €700,000 for all parties for the four-day legal action, which was settled last Tuesday.

The bill will be footed by the taxpayer as the Irish Sports Council distributes government funds to various sporting bodies including the AAI.


The legal action, which was almost settled on three occasions prior to the High Court hearing, has divided Ireland's close-knit athletics community, including the 270 athletics clubs affiliated with the AAI that represent more than 26,000 members.

The settlement comes as the AAI faces into a difficult election process next month when the association must choose a new president and board.

The Coghlan case has convulsed the AAI and the ISC and the Irish Independent has learned that several AAI board members are contemplating stepping down from their roles during next month's election because of the negative publicity surrounding the litigation and the strife it has caused within the organisation.

During the case it was alleged that John Treacy, chief executive of the ISC; and its chairman, Ossie Kilkenny, were part of an "orchestrated campaign" to get rid of Ms Coghlan, who claimed that the ISC was guilty of misfeasance in public office by putting pressure on the AAI to dismiss her.

Ms Coghlan, an Oxford maths graduate and actuary with more than 15 years' experience in financial services and corporate governance, became CEO in May 2008 on an annual salary of €110,000 with a €20,000 bonus. She had previously been elected in 2006 as chair of the AAI's finance committee but was dismissed from her role as CEO in July 2009.

Ms Coghlan, whose brother is the 110-metre Olympic hurdler Peter Coghlan, further claimed in court that she had been defamed by AAI president John Hennessy in comments made to an Oireachtas committee and said that the ISC had put pressure on the AAI to fire her.

She said that Mr Treacy and Mr Kilkenny had communicated their unhappiness about her appointment directly to her not long after she took up the job, and claimed that Mr Kilkenny described her as a "cancer" which had to be removed if the ISC was to continue funding the AAI. Mr Kilkenny said that the "cancer" remark was not about Ms Coghlan.

The case was settled last Tuesday after an independent human resources consultant told High Court president Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns that Mr Treacy had expressed his dissatisfaction with the recruitment process for the CEO.

Shortly after this evidence was given, the ISC approached Ms Coghlan's team with a view to settling the case.

Striking out the proceedings, Mr Justice Kearns said he was satisfied there had historically been goodwill between the parties, adding: "These things develop a life of their own.

"Unfortunately, once they get going it is sometimes very difficult to reverse tracks on either side."

Irish Independent

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