Monday 20 January 2020

Whistleblower sparks double inquiry at TUI

Union probes claims of election interference and data protection breach over staff emails

PROBE: John MacGabhann, General Secretary of the TUI
PROBE: John MacGabhann, General Secretary of the TUI
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Investigations into alleged election interference and claims of a data protection breach are being carried out by one of the country's biggest teaching unions.

The Teachers Unions of Ireland (TUI) is engulfed in controversy over claims of interference by officials in three separate union elections. The allegations centre on two branch elections and one vote for a senior union position.

The Sunday Independent understands that the claims stem from a complaint by a former staff member who had access to internal emails which are alleged to show officials seeking to influence the outcome of union elections.

However, the whistleblower complaint, which was lodged with two TUI senior executive committee members, has sparked concerns over a potential data protection breach and questions over how the complainant had access to internal emails.

Senior figures in the union said last week that gardai and the Data Protection Commissioner had been alerted to the alleged data breach.

However, an internal TUI investigation is also seeking to establish if the whistleblower had access to emails owing to an IT error. One source said the former staff member was mistakenly receiving emails meant for another union official after the whistleblower had left the TUI.

The investigation into the alleged data protection breach is ongoing and a number of avenues of inquiry are being examined.

As part of the internal review, two executive committee members were asked to hand over their phones and laptops. Legal letters were also sent to the two members seeking any information they had which might relate to the investigation into the security breach.

"They were asked what information had been provided to them. It related to the concerns the union had about the apparent breach of internet security," a senior TUI source said.

"The two members concerned advised that data was in someone's possession so the requirement that we protect the data of the union required us to take the steps we pursued."

The separate investigation into claims of voter interference has led to conflict between members of the union's executive committee and the TUI's senior ranks.

In a letter, which has been seen by the Sunday Independent, members of the executive committee criticised the proposed investigation into "allegations of interference in the TUI's electoral processes".

The members insisted the executive committee should decide the make-up of the investigation team and the terms of reference for the inquiry into the election interference allegations.

"It is the exclusive rights of the executive committee to make these decisions and any attempt to set aside the power of the executive committee will be strongly resisted," the letter stated.

"The executive committee did not grant the president permission to appoint the general secretary as a member of the 'independent' investigation team or the exclusive right to nominate and appoint other members of the investigation team."

The letter, which was sent on June 8, also said it was "totally unacceptable to have the TUI investigate itself" and the executive committee would not "co-operate with or accept the findings that follow such a charade".

A senior union source said the investigation team would comprise two external investigators and TUI general secretary John MacGabhann.

The source said the election interference claims were receiving "serious attention" and would be thoroughly investigated by the investigation team tasked with examining the issue.

A TUI spokesman said: "All matters are being dealt with on a confidential basis."

Sunday Independent

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