Board says it had no choice but to fire ‘whistleblower’

The head of the National Education Welfare Board says the organisation had no choice but to dismiss a senior employee.

The employee had contacted TDs to raise concerns about the organisation and failed to reassure the board he would not do so again.

Pat MacSitric, the NEWB’s interim chief executive, said the board had decided to dismiss John Flanagan on grounds of “gross misconduct” in Nov 2010 because “such emails were highly inappropriate”.

Mr Flanagan is claiming he was unfairly dismissed from his job as a senior officer at the NEWB, which oversees school attendance regulations, for acting as a whistleblower over concerns of how the organisation was being run by then chief executive Eddie Ward.

Mr MacSitric told a hearing of the Employment Appeals Tribunal in Dublin yesterday the board believed it was dealing with a very serious situation.

Emails sent by Mr Flanagan to members of the Oireachtas included concerns that moves were being made to reappoint Mr Ward for another seven-year term without a competition, as well as a reference to a report by the Comptroller & Auditor General highlighting lapses in financial controls.

The NEWB head said he had no reason to doubt that Mr Flanagan was deeply committed to child welfare. However, ultimately, Mr MacSitric said, the NEWB had not been given enough assurance it could have trust and confidence in him.

Mr Flanagan, who complained the NEWB had a “toxic environment” under Mr Ward, appealed the decision to fire him to an independent hearing conducted by former Labour Court chairman Finbarr Flood. He agreed with the board’s decision, stating the emails were highly inappropriate.

The hearing was adjourned until a later date.

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