A falling-out between firefighters in a town's part-time fire station had "infected the whole community", a High Court judge said.
Ms Justice Leonie Reynolds made the comment during a case brought by brothers Michael, 39, and Jonathon, 35, Doody, from Abbeyfeale, Co Limerick, over what they claim was bullying, harassment, exclusion and victimisation by their superiors and fellow part-time firefighters at the Abbeyfeale Fire Station.
The case opened on Tuesday but following talks on Wednesday, it was settled.
The Doody brothers claimed that as a result of the alleged victimisation, they have not worked as firemen for the last nine years. They said if they returned they would be subject to further stress because all the other firefighters in the 12-man station are against them returning, including two of the Doodys' cousins.
The court heard from the Doodys' counsel, Roughan Banim SC, of the breakdown in relationships at the station, of failed efforts to resolve them, including by a senior counsel, and of how people would walk on the other side of the street in the small town to avoid one another.
The defendant, Limerick City and County Council, were fully examined by an independent investigator, whose report the council acted on.
The court heard the breakdown in relationships started in 2009 when Jim Doody, Michael and Jonathon's father, who had also been a part-time fireman since 1990, felt he had been passed over for promotion. This, counsel said, "in a small town, caused a lot of ripples” and a “them and us” situation.
There was a bit of tension over the following 18 months resulting in an incident in June 2011 over efforts to get the fire tender out to a car fire before the arrival of the sub officer, the man who had been promoted ahead of Jim Doody. An investigation into that incident by the Limerick Fire Service "did not help matters'', counsel said.
In June 2012, there was an allegation that Jim Doody, while driving to a callout, was involved in “what was characterised as a near miss”. when the fire engine went up on the kerb.
The following August, there were exchanges between Jim Doody and the station officer about a Doody family member being seen drunk in the town which led to an allegation by Jim Doody that there had been a smell of alcohol in the fire engine cab on the way to a chimney fire on August 11.
This allegation “caused a lot of trouble in the station” and an investigation by the fire service could find no evidence to corroborate the claim, counsel said.
When a vacancy arose for a new station officer, seven of the other firefighters wrote to the fire service saying Jim Doody was not suitable for any senior position. A complaint was made by the eighth firefighter, the promoted sub officer, about Doody’s claim of the smell of alcohol in the cab and that it was undermining his authority.
Jim Doody was out of work at this time and when he returned, he was subject to “total isolation” and essentially the only words spoken to him were “Jim, you are driving”, counsel said. In 2015, Jim Doody retired, having suffered a serious injury in a traffic accident.
In the meantime, an independent investigator issued a report in January 2014 with a number of recommendations, but by then both the Doody brothers themselves were out on stress-related leave.
This had followed “an altercation” in October 2013 between Michael Doody and the station officer and another firefighter. The station officer and the other firefighter alleged they had been assaulted by Michael and Michael claimed he was the one who was assaulted.
Both brothers subsequently went off work for stress and despite a number of engagements between them and the Limerick fire service, they have not returned while the other firefighters at the station have made it clear they don’t want them back, counsel said.
The brothers say they cannot return because the council had done nothing to “change the attitudes of firefighters who have taken control of Abbeyfeale Fire Station”.
Following settlement of the case, Ms Justice Reynolds congratulated the parties on coming to a resolution “even at this late stage given the protracted nature of the proceedings”.