Irvine’s company is to appeal the Employment Appeal Tribunal’s judgment, one of the highest-ever individual awards for an unfair dismissal.
The ruling saw Irvine, 41, come out the loser in a bitter feud with his ex-pal, John Foley, over their investment in the popular Cocoon Bar in Dublin’s Royal Hibernian Way.
Foley, 37, had taken a claim for unfair dismissal against Calview Investments — a company set up jointly by the two men to run the pub — after he was sacked, in April 2003, from his €88,000 a year position as manager of Cocoon.
During a 14-day hearing last year — one of the longest in the EAT’s history — representatives of Calview claimed that Foley was dismissed because he had bounced cheques in the pub as well as using the company’s money to pay off his personal debts without authorisation.
However, the EAT found in favour of Foley’s explanations for why he made the controversial payments.
The ruling ordered Calview to reinstate Foley to his former role — a decision which will involve a backdated pay settlement of €318,000. The three-person tribunal said it was “of the unanimous opinion that the dismissal was unfair.”
It determined that Calview’s board of directors was in clear breach of fair procedures by failing to allow Foley to present his case at a meeting that constituted a disciplinary hearing in April 2003, even though he was also a director of the company.
The EAT said Calview’s excuse for not inviting Foley to attend the board meeting was “wholly unacceptable and somewhat odd.” The tribunal also noted that Foley was genuine in his desire to resume his role in managing the Cocoon bar.
Last night, Foley said he felt personally vindicated by the EAT ruling. “I put my faith in the EAT that the truth would come out,” he remarked.
Foley also noted the irony of the fact that he was a 50% shareholder in the company that would have to pay him the compensation.
Meanwhile, Calview issued a statement saying it was “disappointed and shocked” at the tribunal’s findings. However, the company indicated that it was planning to appeal against the judgement.
It is understood that there is little chance of reconciliation between the Formula 1 star and Foley whose personal row has been a talking point in Dublin social circles in recent years.
Foley also branded Irvine a “coward” after the racing driver failed to appear as a witness before the EAT.
During public hearings last year, the tribunal was told that Mr Irvine had lost €2.3m from his investment in Cocoon and another Dublin pub — O’Neill’s on Tara Street — after being asked to provide loans to the businesses by his former friend in 2000.
Mr Foley claimed he was subsequently forced into giving the former Ferrari driver a 50% shareholding in the two businesses in return for Irvine’s loans.
The Grand Prix driver also turned down an offer of €2.2m from Foley to buy out his interests in Calview.