Saturday 16 February 2019

DCU boss forced to deny 'Nazi father' slur

University spends €880k on legal fees as academics' disputes escalate

Daniel McConnell

DUBLIN CITY University (DCU) has spent €880,000 in legal fees in the past two years, much of it on two of the most contentious staff disputes in the history of the college, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

Last week, DCU president Ferdinand Von Prondzynski was forced to take the stand at the Employment Appeals Tribunal to deny that his father was a member of the Nazi party, in a row over whether a college lecturer was dismissed from his post back in 2002.

Dr Sean O Nuallain, who was suspended without pay following a breakdown in relations with his college head is contesting he was fired in a manner contrary to the college's own procedures.

However, the row between computer applications lecturer Dr O Nuallain and Prof Von Prondzynski has become incredibly acrimonious with Dr O Nuallain posting "personally offensive" material about his president in an online blog, including questioning whether his father was a member of the Nazi party.

Read out by counsel Tom Mallon, acting for DCU, several blogs dating back to last year asked whether the university head's father was a member of the Nazi party, if he had fought in the Second World War and whether he was coerced or was a willing participant.

On the stand the president said: "My father was born in Germany and yes, he was in the German army in the Second World War -- as most Germans of that age were and had to be. He was wounded several times and eventually died of those wounds years later." But he denied that his father or any member of his family was ever a member of the Nazi party and said that the reference was a step beyond any boundary that was acceptable.

O Nuallain in his blog also called Prof Von Prondzynski an idiot, a person without honour. He also made a direct reference to Prof Von Prondzynski's wife, whom he said "is not even Irish".

Both Prof Von Prondzynski's wife and his son, who has special needs, read the blogs and found them very upsetting, the tribunal heard.

The president told the tribunal he still had no concept of a situation where a member of staff with a serious issue between him and the college simply refused to engage with anybody to resolve the issue.

DCU, appealing a 2003 Rights Commissioner ruling that Dr O Nuallain should be reinstated to a permanent position with no financial loss, maintains that it did not terminate his employment and that he had "repudiated" his contract. Dr O' Nuallain insists he did not resign and was constructively dismissed by the university.

Prof Ferdinand Von Prondzynski said he had never known a case like it in his 30 years of academic life and it was quite unique.

DCU is also battling a separate case with another academic, Prof Paul Cahill.

In February 2007, Professor Paul Cahill won a High Court challenge against DCU and was reinstated. However, he has not been allowed to resume teaching and can only do research. Prof Cahill claimed that his dismissal breached the condition of his academic tenure, which he said was guaranteed.

Justice Frank Clarke said the termination had been "invalid" because the college had failed to follow all of the appropriate procedures and did not provide for his "tenure". DCU appealed the case to the Supreme Court in June and judgement has been reserved until October.

Defending the spend on legal fees, a college spokesman said: "The entire legal costs carried by DCU for the three years during which the Cahill case has been running have totalled €880,323. I cannot say how much of that is down to the Cahill case -- but my guess is that it has cost us in the region of €400,000."

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