Prison officers lose court challenges into internal transfers and bullying allegations

Three prison officers have lost their separate High Court challenges related to internal transfers and bullying allegations within the Irish Prison Service.

Prison officers lose court challenges into internal transfers and bullying allegations

Three prison officers have lost their separate High Court challenges related to internal transfers and bullying allegations within the Irish Prison Service.

James Ben Buckley, Gerald Dowling and David McDonald were all members of the Irish Prison Service intelligence gathering and gang-disrupting unit called the Operational Support Group (OSG).

They claimed they were denied fair procedures and natural justice when decisions were made arising out of bullying allegations against Mr Dowling and McDonald.

On Tuesday, Ms Justice Una Ní Raifeartaigh refused to grant them declarations that their rights under the Constitution and under the Irish Prison Service dignity at work policy had been breached.

Mr Buckley, a chief officer in OSG who says he retired mainly because how this matter was handled, claimed the attempt to transfer him to the prisoner escort/transport unit was a demotion and a punishment.

He initially claimed it was the result of him querying the shortlisting process for a promotional position and later claimed it was connected with bullying allegations against the other two OSG colleagues.

Mr Dowling, also a chief officer, claimed in his action he was denied fair procedures when he was accused of bullying by a junior officer.

He said a preliminary investigation failed to take account of the fact that the bullying complaint arose out of the complainant himself having been admonished for allegedly making slanderous allegations against Mr Buckley.

The third man, Portlaoise Prison assistant chief officer David McDonald, claimed an attempt to temporarily transfer him to the Midlands Prison pending an investigation into a similar bullying allegation breached his right to fair procedures, among other things.

The court heard the matter first arose in early summer 2018 when Mr Buckley had queried the promotional process for a governor grade post.

Around the same time, in May 2018, two junior officers were called to a meeting with Mr McDonald and Mr Dowling to be admonished in relation to an administrative matter.

When they had been admonished, one of the two juniors was asked to stay behind and was allegedly told by Mr Dowling he had been spreading malicious rumours about Mr Buckley, who was not present at that meeting.

In July and August, the two junior officers made bullying complaints, one against Mr Dowling and the other against Mr McDonald.

On August 18, Mr Buckley, who was allegedly the subject of the rumours, got an email ordering his transfer to the Midlands Prison.

He strongly protested and initially believed it was “inextricably linked” with his promotional shortlist query. The suddenness of the transfer gave rise to a widespread perception within the service "that I had done something wrong."

The IPS denied this. It said it was done because of the demand for prisoner escorts had risen from 29,459 per year in 2016 to nearly 40,000 in 2018.

On August 24, Mr McDonald was informed of his temporary transfer pending investigation of the allegation against him.

He also strongly protested and then brought court proceedings which were settled when the IPS accepted procedures were not as they should have been.

A new process to investigate the bullying allegation was then opened and Mr McDonald brought new High Court proceedings challenging this.

Ms Justice Ní Raifeartaigh said in Mr Buckley's case none of his theories supported the view that his transfer was imposed as a punishment. These included that it was done over his query about the shortlist, a desire to prevent him continuing to access OSG records and that it was connected to the bullying allegations against his two colleagues.

The judge found Mr Buckley was not entitled to notice or to an opportunity to make submissions before he was transferred.

In relation to Mr McDonald, she said that after he brought his second legal challenge, the issue with the two junior officers had been dealt with by putting them on a different roster which meant Mr McDonald did not have to be transferred.

Once that happened, he should have discontinued the High Court action, she said.

He should also have engaged with an independent process into the bullying allegations but instead he sought to prolong and bring to trial what was essentially a pointless (moot) case, she said.

In relation to Mr Dowling, matters in relation to the junior officer who complained against him also appear to be at an end, she said.

More in this section