A council whistleblower who claims he was effectively demoted for claiming the local authority made “disguised payments” to a failed sports project has lost his case at the Workplace Relations Commission.
The decision, published this week, does not name either the official or the council, nor does it identify the sports project or those involved other than noting that the sports project achieved success “at national level in 2009”.
The case was brought by a man described as a “senior and longstanding official” who represented the council in question on the board of directors of a limited company that operated “a high profile sporting project in the area” between 2007 and 2011.
The majority shareholding in the sports project was held by a property developer, but the whistleblower alleged that the council “had made disguised payments and that there had been accounting irregularities relating to the expenditure of council monies” when the project suffered financial difficulties.
The whistleblower made protected disclosures to both the council’s newly appointed chief executive in May 2014 and to a government minister in March 2015.
The commission’s report states that in the disclosures, the official made allegations in relation to the financial exposure of the council to the sporting venture and “regarding the veracity of statements made by or on behalf of the respondent to members of the Oireachtas, the media and other parties”.
In January 2015, the chief executive officer met with the whistleblower to tell him that a probe into his claims concluded there was nothing to investigate, after which the complainant then wrote to the minister.
A year later the whistleblower was transferred to another section. He told the WRC this was effectively a demotion as in his previous role he managed an 82-strong workforce in a section with a budget of €10m to €15m, while his new role saw him in charge of just six staff members.
He claimed the role was “similar to a senior staff officer role he had carried out some 20 years previously”.
The council, however, said there had been no demotion and “no detriment incurred by the complainant”.
It argued that because the current CEO was appointed in March 2014, after the collapse of the sports project, he would not be in the “firing line” for any of the issues raised by the whistleblower, and so would have no motivation to penalise him.
The WRC ruled there was insufficient evidence to conclude that the transfer of the whistleblower was “because of, or in retaliation, to the protected disclosures”.
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