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Sunday 17 December 2017

National Museum 'pays out €1.8m' over staff issues

The National Museum in Dublin. Photo: Tom Burke
The National Museum in Dublin. Photo: Tom Burke
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Eleven members of staff at the National Museum of Ireland have made formal complaints while working at the institution since 2009, according to a report provided to an Oireachtas committee.

Settlements, without any admission of liability, were made with two other employees who issued proceedings seeking damages for personal injuries.

The data was revealed in a submission to the Oireachtas Arts Committee.

Details of the complaints emerged following controversy in recent months over allegations of bullying and harassment at the museum.

Committee chairman Peadar Tóibín estimated dealing with bullying and other staff issues had cost the museum between €1.5m and €1.8m in settlements, consultants' reports and outside agencies. The estimate was not contradicted at the meeting by the museum's chairperson Catherine Heaney or director Raghnall Ó Floinn.

But in a statement afterwards, the museum said it appeared the figures included a number of elements of expenditure not directly related to the matters discussed at the committee.

The museum's report put the costs of dealing with bullying at just €261,000.

This included €53,800 spent on various reports between 2011 and 2016, €85,963 spent on an employee assistance programme, €4,800 on a staff well-being survey and €116,634 on external legal fees.

Six of the 11 complaints had been addressed informally through mediation, one was not upheld, one proved inconclusive, one was withdrawn, another was resolved through mediation, while a final complaint did not progress.

The report said all of the complaints were now closed.

However, two other cases were currently subject of "informal mediation", while another employee is also suspended and has issued proceedings seeking reinstatement, it said.

Addressing the committee, Ms Heaney said: "HR issues have cost the museum and the State, both in terms of reputation and financially."

Ms Heaney, who joined the board last year, said the museum was taking a number of measures to tackle staff concerns following a survey last October which found 40pc of staff were at risk of developing anxiety, while a fifth of respondents complained of being "often" or "always" bullied.

"I will also acknowledge that there are problems, but we are working incredibly hard to address them, and I want to reassure the committee here that my board and myself have put in roughly eight to 20 hours a week voluntary service to address a number of challenges we have as a board," she said.

"We are trying to balance all of the challenges with due attention to each one."

Mr Tóibín said he had been investigating the matter and had discovered that psychotherapists and psychologists employed by the museum to deal with low morale and bullying in 2011 wrote to the then-arts minister.

He read from the letter, which said: "In our relatively long experience providing staff care and employee assistance programmes to many different organisations, we have never previously encountered what from our perspective appears to be prolonged systemic institutionalised bullying of the general staff by some senior members of administrative staff."

The Sinn Féin TD said he had spoken to staff who had been affected.

He said these were people who "have had shattered lives, emotion collapse and major stress".

Irish Independent

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