A Fianna Fáil councillor has expressed shock at being the subject of a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission over an alleged incident with an anti-abortion campaigner at a pipe band contest in Dublin last year.
The WRC investigated a claim that Darragh Butler, who represents the Swords area on Fingal County Council, had engaged in harassment on grounds of religious belief contrary to the Equal Status Act. Mr Butler, who has been a councillor for 12 years, denied the claim and described the complaint as “vexatious and misconceived.”
Mark J Savage, an Evangelical Christian and carpenter from Swords, claimed he was approached by Mr Butler inside the front entrance of Swords Castle on May 5, 2018 during the Leinster Pipe Band Championship as he was distributing anti-abortion leaflets as part of the Repeal the Eighth referendum campaign.
It is understood the leaflet contained a heading which gave the impression it was being distributed on behalf of Swords Castle. Mr Savage complained that the councillor confronted him in a threatening manner and engaged in thuggish and intimidating behaviour as well as invading his personal space.
He told a WRC adjudication officer that the incident had occurred after Mr Butler had read one of his leaflets. Mr Savage claimed Mr Butler was a service provider under the Equal Status Act as he was an elected member of Fingal County Council which has hosting the pipe band competition.
He explained that he had failed to submit a complaint within the two-month deadline because of the “mental and emotional distress and anxiety” he suffered as a result of the incident which he said was ongoing.
Mr Butler said he was shocked to have such a complaint levelled against him and categorically rejected Mr Savage’s claims. He maintained he was attending the pipe band championship as a private citizen.
The WRC adjudication officer dismissed the case on the basis that the complaint was not filed within the statutory period of two months of the alleged incident. She ruled Mr Savage had provided no supporting documentation to corroborate his statement.
The adjudication officer said she was mindful that Mr Savage had taken previous cases to the WRC and Circuit Court and was entirely familiar with timelines under equal status legislation. The WRC ruled that it had no jurisdiction to hear the case as the complaint was out of time and statute barred.
Mr Savage has previously made similar complaints of alleged religious discrimination against a number of parties including former health minister, James Reilly, and Google.
He was also involved in Ireland’s first “right to be forgotten” case when he failed in his legal challenge to have Google remove a link that described him as “north County Dublin’s homophobic candidate” for the 2014 local elections.
In a statement, Mr Butler said he had been surprised on the day to find Mr Savage disseminating false information which was causing upset to some members of the public. He said his interaction with Mr Savage was confined to asking him to stop distributing the leaflet.
Mr Butler said Mr Savage had also been asked to stop by event organisers and had later been removed by gardaí.
“I am pleased that Mr Savage’s spurious claim failed but I am disappointed that I had to waste valuable time, energy and resources in defending my good name and reputation,” he added.