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Saturday 19 October 2019

Dublin Port probes sexual harassment claims and bullying

Semi-state calls in external experts

Dublin Port. Picture: Frank McGrath
Dublin Port. Picture: Frank McGrath

Fearghal O'Connor

Dublin Port has been hit by a series of allegations of staff bullying and harassment, including claims of unwanted sexual advances and touching that took place on company nights out.

External investigators, barristers and mediators have been drafted in by management at the semi-state company over the past year after a number of staff made formal complaints against colleagues.

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A female member of Dublin Port staff first made informal allegations of sexual harassment by a port company colleague to superiors in May 2017. A decision was made not to intervene when the allegations first surfaced because the woman had declined to make a formal complaint, according to the official minutes of an interview with the investigator.

An investigation was instigated after the woman then made a formal complaint in June 2018.

"At our meeting she told me she was sexually harassed by [named staff member] on five occasions starting at the Christmas party in 2016," an external investigator was told by a superior of the woman in whom she had confided. "What she reported to me was sexual harassment."

By early December 2018, the staff member accused of harassment and bullying himself had raised his own complaint of bullying against a superior and a mediation process was established with an external mediator.

That process, if successfully concluded, would have seen an employee accused of sexually harassing female colleagues leave the company with a severance package. In return, it had been proposed that the employee would drop his own allegation and abide by a gagging order-type clause with regard to the process.

Two further claims of sexual harassment from two different female staff members emerged in July, with one woman claiming to have suffered sexual harassment since 2012 from the same staff member who was the subject of the previous allegations.

She described one incident that she alleged took place in May 2017 when a large group of port staff were drinking at a reserved private bar in Dawson Street after earlier drinks in a nearby hotel.

She claimed that the intoxicated male staff member was leaning against the wall outside the ladies toilet when she came out. "I got the feeling he was waiting for me," she wrote.

"He turned around to face me, he started saying, 'you look great, that dress is really nice on you, your eyes are gorgeous'."

As she was trying to get past him "suddenly he bent down and put both his arms underneath my bottom and lifted me up into the air," she wrote in a formal complaint sent to the company in early July of this year.

"I was angry and embarrassed, I didn't want him touching me, his body was touching mine, his face was at my chest area. I felt humiliated."

The two most recent complaints came during a difficult summer for the port, which is currently preparing for a no-deal Brexit.

In June, port management had brought in experts from PwC and Mazars to investigate credit card spending at the port, as well as the source of alleged leaked information.

That followed a story in the Sunday Independent about a total credit card spend in 2018 of €522,000, with large amounts regularly spent on staff and client entertainment and foreign travel by port managers.

Read more: Dublin Port launches probe into 'data breach' after company credit card spending revealed

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