FAILURE to deal properly with an allegation of sexual harassment at the ATGWU's Belfast office is one of the reasons being put forward for the suspension on full pay of Mick O'Reilly, the union's Irish representative.
But a supporter in the union's Dublin branch called the allegation "a shocking red herring", accusing the London-based union of high-level political interference, due to O'Reilly's opposition to the partnership deal.
A militant left-winger, Mr O'Reilly was district secretary in Dublin up until two years ago, when he was promoted to the top Irish job in Belfast, where there were some internal difficulties.
A spokesman for the 900,000-strong TGWU the parent body in London said that one problem inherited by Mr O'Reilly related to sexual harassment.
Mr O'Reilly and northern organiser Eugene McGloin were suspended by London HQ on the orders of general secretary Bill Morris, citing organisational and administrative reasons. ATGWU press officer, Andrew Dodgshon, told the Sunday Independent that the "precautionary suspensions" on full pay, followed a report from deputy general secretary Margaret Prosser.
He declined to make any further comment. "There will be a disciplinary process and we do not wish to prejudice the outcome," he pointed out. "In the meantime, Jimmy Elsby, assistant general secretary, will take over as the temporary union organiser. He is being transferred over and will be based in Belfast."
Mr O'Reilly and Mr McGloin are under orders from Mr Morris not to speak to the media, but their friends are rallying to their defence. Brid Smith, a Dublin-based ATGWU shop steward, and secretary of the Campaign Against Partnership Deals, of which Mr O'Reilly is a sponsor, condemned the suspensions. In relation to the allegation of a delay in processing a complaint of sexual harassment, she said: "I think it's just a shocking red herring; I know it is a red herring."
Ms Smith said: "They are going after Mick O'Reilly for his stance on partnership, his attacks on the cosy consensus and the fact that he was prepared to allow the ILDA train drivers into the ATGWU. And the reason they 'took out' Eugene McGloin was because they could not move Mick alone, as Eugene would have stepped into his shoes. They wanted him out as well; he and Mick work as a team.
"I do know that people believe strongly that there was interference at a very high level in politics and within the ICTU to get Mick O'Reilly taken out."
The ATGWU Irish Regional Executive had "unreservedly condemned" the suspensions, expressed "no confidence in the process, which resulted in the suspensions" and called for the reinstatement of the two men.