‘Secret recording attempt’ at heart of St Mary’s centre row

Mike Dwane

Reporter:

Mike Dwane

Letter: Cllr Gerry McLoughlin
AN “attempt to secretly record” a board meeting and the subsequent dismissal of an employee is at the heart of a row which has divided sections of the community in St Mary’s parish in recent weeks.

AN “attempt to secretly record” a board meeting and the subsequent dismissal of an employee is at the heart of a row which has divided sections of the community in St Mary’s parish in recent weeks.

That is according to the directors of St Mary’s Adult Education Centre, who have now challenged people making allegations concerning corporate governance and other matters at the centre to back them up with evidence.

The controversy took on a political dimension with the resignation of Cllr Gerry McLoughlin from the Labour Party while he was still mayor. He cited a lack of support from his former Labour colleagues in his efforts to challenge those running the adult education centre as one of his reasons for quitting the party.

Cllr McLoughlin, who supports the former employee at the centre of the row, had called for the resignation of two directors of St Mary’s Adult Education centre in a letter sent last November.

In that letter, he detailed a number of concerns and allegations in relation to the staff member’s treatment, the constitution of the board, corporate governance and other matters.

That he had sent such a damaging letter to a community organisation on council-headed paper while he was the serving as mayor was criticised by fellow councillors.

When the political row erupted in April, St Mary’s Adult Education Centre said it was restrained from commenting. That was pending the outcome of a disciplinary investigation and review process which concluded last week.

The centre has now issued a statement detailing its side of the story. It begins by stating the centre was established in 2006 “by a group of dedicated volunteers working in this sector and committed to the value and potential of adult education to transform their community for the better. This remains the cornerstone of this centre, run with the support of voluntary and statutory organisations”.

“In recent times, allegations have surfaced from various sources which have led to the undermining of the work of this centre. Many of these allegations have emanated from a ‘support group”, of which a now dismissed employee of the centre is a prominent member. To date we have been constrained from commenting on the allegations due to an employment dispute with this employee.

“The employee concerned has now been dismissed from employment with the centre for an act of gross misconduct, namely an attempt by the employee to secretly record the proceedings of a board meeting on March 26, 2013. This employee’s dismissal was appealed in accordance with procedures. An appeal process, recently concluded, was conducted by an independent barrister whose appointment and binding recommendations were agreed prior to the process by both parties. This process has now upheld the dismissal decision and found that the misconduct charge was valid.

“It has also been alleged by the above mentioned ‘support group’ that the centre was trading ‘insolvently’. If there is any evidence to substantiate such allegations, it is only fair that such evidence be given to us to examine. No such evidence has been presented to us. In fact, these allegations are totally without foundation.”

The directors and management committee of the centre go on to reaffirm their “commitment to adult education” in St Mary’s and declare their intent to “develop services further with the Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board, the Department of Social Protection and other relevant statutory agencies”.

It is understood that the employee at the centre of the row denied throughout the disciplinary process having anything to do with an attempt to secretly record the board meeting. The charge followed the discovery of a dictaphone in a flower basket as the meeting was ongoing.

And the matter may yet come before a tribunal, the Limerick Leader has learned.

The group supporting the dismissed worker has set up a rival adult education facility in a rented house in the community. This was officially opened by Gerry McLoughlin in June in one of his last official functions as mayor.

Meanwhile, St Mary’s Adult Education Centre, which is located on Island Road, said it was reopening after its summer break on August 13 and registration for new classes would take place on September 9.

“We would like to thank all the statutory agencies, the voluntary organisations and the volunteers who have so generously given of their time and support over the years,” the statement from the board and management committee concludes.