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'Childcare worker withheld food from toddlers' - claims

A CHILDCARE worker was sacked after complaints that she had withheld food and drink from toddlers and punished them for misbehaviour by putting them in a corner, an Employment Appeals Tribunal has heard.

The hearing heard Mary McNulty shouted at the children, lifted and dragged them, left one child without a coat on a cold day and used a noisy hand dryer as a threat to a toddler who was terrified of the machine.

The tribunal was also told by a co-worker at Ballyheane Buttercups Community Childcare Service in Ballyheane, Co Mayo, that Ms McNulty had recorded a child crying on her phone and played the recording for other children to view.

Ms McNulty denied all of the allegations and claimed that members of staff did not like her and colluded against her, which led to her dismissal.

She took her action alleging unfair dismissal against Ballyheane Community Sports Club Ltd.

The hearing in Castlebar heard that Ms McNulty had worked in the toddler area for children aged from 18 months to three years. She had been employed at the community childcare facility from 2008 until her dismissal in 2011.

Initial concerns had been raised by childcare staff to the supervisor at the facility alleging that Ms McNulty was rough with the children and was not giving them food and drink. The staff were asked to outline their concerns in written statements.

Additional complaints were put to Ms McNulty at a subsequent meeting and one staff member described her as moody and difficult to work with.

The childcare worker was dismissed for gross misconduct and the decision was upheld at an appeal hearing that she had not attended.

Ms McNulty told the tribunal that her personality was generally quiet and believed that this had contributed to her downfall. She denied ever threatening a child or deliberately setting off the hand dryer.

She said that on occasion she would remove a child from a situation for a short period of time to allow the child to calm down. It was not a method of punishment.

However, the tribunal found that the decision to dismiss was not unreasonable.

Given the nature of the allegations and the information gathered by the Ballyheane Sports Club Ltd during the course of its investigation, the tribunal took the view that it had no alternative.