Cork Navy man mounts challenge to being reprimanded over duty free cigarettes

A member of the Irish Naval Service has launched a High Court action over being reprimanded for bringing too many duty free cigarettes on board the ship where he was serving.

The action has been brought by Eugene O'Toole arising out of an incident that occurred last September when he was serving on board the LE James Joyce, which at the time was anchored at the port of Valetta in Malta.

Mr O'Toole, from Mallow in Co Cork, claims the reprimand he received over the incident following a disciplinary process should be quashed because the sanction was imposed by his commanding officer,who he claims played a role in the investigation of the allegation.

Today Mr O'Toole's Counsel Nathan Jones BL told the High Court Mr OToole has been a member of the Defence Forces since 2002 and holds the rank of Leading Sick Berth Attendant with the Naval Service.

The incident occurred on September 22nd when Mr O'Toole brought a quantity of duty free cigarettes on board the LE James Joyce.

The vessel had just completed a deployment in the Mediterranean where its crew rescued some 2,500 migrants.

The amount of cigarettes was in excess of the allowance permitted under the ships Captain's Standing Orders.

However Mr O'Toole claims he had previously sought and had obtained permission to bring the cigarettes on board from a superior officer.

Later that day, while he was on duty, he was approached by his commanding officer Lt Commander Niall Manning who demanded to know why the cigarettes were being loaded onto the ship.

Mr OToole said he believed he had permission to have the cigarettes brought on board.

Shortly afterwards Mr O'Toole said he was summoned to the cabin of the officer who had given him permission to bring the cigarettes on board.

That officer told Mr O'Toole the Commanding Officer had ordered that all the duty free cigarettes were to be unloaded within 15 minutes or charges would be brought against Mr O'Toole.

All of the cigarettes were unloaded.

Arising out of the incident three charges were brought against Mr O'Toole over the cigarettes. The charges were considered By Lt Cmdr. Manning in April of this year.

Two of the charges were dismissed. However one charge, that Mr O'Toole's conduct was to the predjudice of good order and discipline contrary to a section of the 1954 Defence Act, was found proven by Lt Cmdr Manning.

Mr O'Toole received a reprimand.

It is Mr O'Toole's case that Lt Cmdr Manning had a clear prior involvement in the matter and should not have been the person who considered the charges.

In the circumstances Mr O'Toole claims he has been denied fair procedures and that Lt Cmdr Manning has acted unlawfully.

Mr O Toole also argues his constitutional rights have been breached.

In his action against the Minister for Defence, Ireland, the Attorney General and Lt Cmdr Manning, Mr O'Toole seeks orders quashing his commanding officer's decision finding the charge proven.

He also seeks an order quashing the decision to reprimand him.

He further seeks a declaration his commanding officer erred in law and acted outside his powers by investigating and then making a determination on the charges.

Permission to bring the challenge was granted on an ex parte basis by Ms Justice Margaret Heneghan.

The case will come back before the court in October.

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