Wednesday 22 November 2017

Fine Gael TD 'threatened' his ex-assistant, tribunal finds

Sean Conlan and Sarah Comiskey.
Sean Conlan and Sarah Comiskey.
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Fine Gael TD Sean Conlan breached a "litany" of employment rights and laws when he sacked his former assistant, according to the damning findings of an Employment Appeal Tribunal.

Mr Conlan was criticised for "threatening" his former employee Cathy Shevlin while she was on sick leave and giving the tribunal evidence littered with "inconsistencies".

The Cavan Monaghan TD has been ordered to pay Ms Shevlin €25,000 in compensation for unfairly dismissing her from her role in his constituency office.

The severely critical ruling - which has been seen by the Irish Independent - categorically dismissed Mr Conlan's claim he had fairly sacked his former secretary after she broke the terms of her contract.

"The tribunal finds that there were a litany of breaches of the claimant's employment rights," the tribunal said.

"Some of these breaches were more serious than others. Aligned to the aforementioned breaches there were a number of inconsistencies in the respondent's evidence."

The tribunal found a breakdown in communication between Ms Shevlin and Mr Conlan's fiancée Sarah Comiskey resulted in workplace tensions.

Ms Comiskey is also Mr Conlan's taxpayer-funded parliamentary assistant, a role that comes with a €50,000 salary.

Ms Shevlin said the "dynamic" in the office changed when Ms Comiskey was hired.

The Tribunal noted that Ms Comiskey was not called to give evidence despite being central to the dispute.

In September 2012, Ms Shevlin took stress-related sick leave after she felt "threatened and intimidated" during a meeting in Mr Conlan's office, which was aimed at settling the dispute with Ms Comiskey.

The married mother of three claimed the TD stopped her from leaving his office by putting his arm across the door. Six months later she was dismissed while still on sick leave.

Mr Conlan claimed his assistant breached her contract on a number of occasions and he was forced to let her go.

He claimed he gave Ms Shevlin oral warnings after she gave sensitive voting information to his political rivals and suggested giving a Fine Gael membership list to another politician.

He also claimed she failed to alert him to Dáil speaking time which meant he missed the opportunity to speak during a debate.

The tribunal said there were inconsistencies and a lack of proof in Mr Conlan's evidence and ruled that his testimony on these matters was "not creditable".

Mr Conlan also claimed Ms Shevlin publicly undermined him while on sick leave by posting a critical comment about him on a party member's Facebook page.

In a letter to Ms Shevlin, the TD said the comment was "politically critical in nature" and "damaging" to his reputation.

He later wrote to her saying her employment was at risk after she failed to engage in an investigation into the matter.

The tribunal said the letter not only amounted to a breach of Ms Shevlin's rights but also a threat.

Irish Independent

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