Former ‘Independent’ reporter’s unfair dismissal case adjourned

Gemma O’Doherty claims she was let go after visit to former Garda commissioner’s home

Garda whistleblower John Wilson with former Irish Independent reporter Gemma O’Doherty at the Employment Appeals Tribunal yesterday. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Garda whistleblower John Wilson with former Irish Independent reporter Gemma O’Doherty at the Employment Appeals Tribunal yesterday. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Sat, May 10, 2014, 01:00

An unfair dismissal action taken by a former Irish Independent journalist

to the Employment Appeals Tribunal was adjourned yesterday pending a decision on whether it should be allowed to go ahead in advance of a defamation case.

Gemma O’Doherty, from Shankill in Dublin, was made redundant by Independent News and Media in August 2013 after more than 18 years working for the company. Ms O’Doherty claims she was chosen in the wake of a conflict that ensued after she called to the home of former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan as part of her investigation into the wiping of penalty points.

‘Vigorously disputed’

The tribunal heard Ms O’Doherty had also initiated defamation proceedings against both the paper and its group editor-in-chief Stephen Rae.

Brian Kennedy, for the Irish Independent, said a suggestion Ms O’Doherty was chosen as retribution for her investigating a story on Mr Callinan having his penalty points quashed was “vigorously disputed” and “absolutely wrong”.

He said without informing her editor, Ms O’Doherty had “decided to show up” at the home of Mr Callinan at 10pm on April 11th, 2013. He was away and his wife answered the door and was “somewhat upset”, Mr Kennedy said, as was Mr Callinan when he heard of the incident.

The newspaper “apologised” and “there the matter rested”, he said. Ms O’Doherty’s story appeared on the front page of the paper a week later.

Mr Kennedy said the decision to make Ms O’Doherty redundant was about the nature of services she provided, not the quality. The newspaper group had sought cost savings of €26 million, including 29 staff reductions, he said.

He also said there was an overlap between the issues in the defamation case taken by Ms O’Doherty and the tribunal case and there was a risk of “double recovery” or “triple recovery” if a threatened personal injuries case also went ahead.

The defamation case would be heard before a jury and there was also a risk of prejudicing it. It would be “particularly unfair” to Mr Rae if the tribunal case went ahead in advance of the defamation case, he said.

Cathy Maguire for Ms O’Doherty described the case as a “common or garden unfair dismissal”. Ms O’Doherty had been an “exemplary employee” who had been “lauded by management”.

Status reduced

Ms Maguire said the incident involving Ms O’Doherty’s visit to the former Garda commissioner’s home was followed by heated contacts between Ms O’Doherty and management and her status was reduced.

Her byline and photograph were removed from the travel section of the paper. When she complained she was referred back to the penalty points story and the company immediately moved to make her redundant.

Ms Maguire said normal redundancy procedures were not followed. She opposed the adjournment of the case pending the defamation hearing.

The case was adjourned pending a decision on whether it should be heard before or after the defamation case.