Wednesday 21 February 2018

Think-tank sacked boss after FAS concerns

Breda Heffernan

Breda Heffernan

AN employee was fired from a think-tank for gross misconduct after a state agency raised serious concerns about how she was running a FAS community employment scheme.

Margaret Aherne had herself begun her career at the Institute of International and European Affairs think-tank on a FAS scheme in 1996.

She then rose through the organisation and was promoted to director of publications, but was fired after the think-tank claimed she had brought its reputation into disrepute.

Ms Aherne was dismissed in July 2010 after state-training agency FAS, which administers community employment schemes, became concerned about how the scheme was being run within the institute.

An internal probe carried out by the institute then identified a number of issues including:

• Excessive sick leave being taken by some participants.

• Inadequate training programmes for participants.

• Inability to trace a participant who was supposedly working in one centre, but who had never been seen there.

Opening her case before an Employment Appeals Tribunal in Dublin yesterday, barrister Claire Bruton, for Ms Aherne, said her client had an "exemplary" record before her dismissal and had been treated in a "disrespectful and unlawful manner".

Barrister for the institute, Anthony Kerr said an official at FAS contacted the think-tank in 2008 saying he was concerned about how the scheme was operating and was having difficulty contacting Ms Aherne.

Mr Kerr said Ms Aherne had taken a period of unauthorised study leave in June -- a claim denied by Ms Aherne -- followed by sick leave and did not return to work until September 22.

On her return she had a meeting with then director general Jill Donoghue during which it is claimed Ms Aherne refused to accept any of the issues raised. Ms Aherne was then suspended on full pay while an investigation was conducted.

Disrepute

The next day Ms Donoghue wrote to Ms Aherne saying she lacked confidence in her ability to do her job and claimed she had brought the institute's reputation into disrepute with FAS.

Ms Bruton said the inference was that the institute had "made up its mind" before the investigation was held.

Ms Aherne was later dismissed in her absence and appealed the decision, but her appeal was rejected. The case was adjourned to October 18.

Irish Independent

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