Minister for Agriculture denies breach of court order
Two technical officers in dispute with Dept of Agriculture over redeployment
Two Department of Agriculture officials may seek orders requiring Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney attend the High Court to explain why he should not be jailed over an alleged breach of an undertaking given to the court in an employment dispute.
Two Department of Agriculture officials may seek orders requiring Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney attend the High Court to explain why he should not be jailed over an alleged breach of an undertaking given to the court in an employment dispute. The Minister has denied any such breach.
Vincent Gormley and James Scott, technical agricultural officers within the Department, claim in judicial review proceedings they are entitled to be redeployed to positions as Assistant Agriculture Inspectors (AAIs).
The dispute has been subject of talks between the Department and the men’s trade union IMPACT and will also be subject to a conciliation conference at the Labour Relations Commission (LRC). The court proceedings have been adjourned until after the LRC process next month.
The Minister undertook before the High Court on July 30th that, pending the hearing of the case, he would not appoint people to the AAI posts advertised “pursuant to the internal competition for such posts advertised on the 12th April 2013 or otherwise”.
Patrick O’Reilly SC, for the men, told Mr Justice John Hedigan today it seemed positions were filled after that undertaking. He did not make that assertion lightly but, despite detailed correspondence about exactly what positions were filled, there was a “serious deficit” in the information provided, counsel said.
He had prepared a motion for attachment and committal but wanted first to consider a letter just received and to get more information about the positions filled since the undertaking. As the matter would be before the LRC late next month, he wanted the matter adjourned until after that.
Eugene Regan SC, for the Minister, said the LRC process could help resolve the matter and he strongly objected to a suggestion of breach of undertaking.
The applicants were taking a “subtle” interpretation of the words “or otherwise” in the undertaking which related to an external advertisement process while the issue before the court related to an internal advertisment process, he said.
In a sworn statement, Mr Gormley, Brownsgrove, Tuam, Co Galway, said he and Mr Scott, Glinsk, Ballymoe, Co Galway, were employed by the Department since 1998 and 2001 respectively and were formally told in July 2011 they were surplus to requirements.
Under the Croke Park Agreement and the moratorium on public service recruitment, redeployment was to take precedence over recruitment, transfers and promotions unless in circumstances where special skills are required, he said. Under Croke Park, the Public Appointments Service should have been notified he and Mr Scott were available for redeployment but it was not.
Both men have BScs in Rural Development and Mr Scott also has a Masters degree in Rural Environmental Conservation and Management.
The Department advertised for AAIs on the www.publicjobs.ie website in late 2012, stating applicants must hold a first or second class honours degree in Agricultural Science or equivalent qualification.
Mr Gormley claims another AAI within the Department holds the same qualification as himself (a BSc in Rural Development) and therefore both he and Mr Scott meet the essential requirements for the AAI posts and should have been redeployed to those.
Without prejudice to their redeployment claim, then subect of talks between IMPACT and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, both men applied for the AAI positions but were told last January they did not meet the essential requirements.
Last April, the Department advertised an internal competition for the AAI posts despite requests from IMPACT not to do so. Both men applied but were again told they did not meet the same essential requirements.