Man claims job lost after Coughlan comments

Thu, Oct 4, 2012, 01:00

A FORMER harbour master has brought a High Court action alleging he was unfairly dismissed from his job following allegations of wrongdoing made by former tánaiste Mary Coughlan.

Patrick J Kelly was dismissed as harbour master of Killybegs harbour, Co Donegal, after an investigation into complaints about the performance of his duties. It was alleged he contravened his role by running a private company from the harbour-master’s office and providing for financial gain a pilotage service, where boats are safely guided in and out of harbour.

Mr Kelly, Drumrooske, Donegal town, was suspended in October 2004 and dismissed by the Government in September 2009 after an investigation conducted by the Department of the Marine.

In his High Court proceedings, Mr Kelly, who denies the allegations, claims the investigation was deeply flawed and unfair. He says he was never informed of all the allegations against him, including those of the former tánaiste, until after the investigation concluded.

The proceedings are against the Ministers for Agriculture and Finance, the Government, Ireland and the Attorney General.

Mr Kelly is seeking an order quashing the decision to dismiss him and declarations including that his dismissal was unfair, tainted by bias, in breach of due process and irrational.

He also claims the investigation was not conducted with due expediency and involved inordinate and inexcusable delay. He is also seeking damages. The State parties have denied all of Mr Kelly’s claims.

John Rogers SC, for Mr Kelly, said materials were concealed from his client, including records of a meeting held between the then minister for agriculture Mary Coughlan and a senior department official in October 2004.

Mr Rogers said Ms Coughlan outlined more than 25 complaints against Mr Kelly at that meeting.

She alleged he had piloted boats in the harbour for cash, was “a bully-boy” and did not want security at the harbour, Mr Rogers added. There was also a reference to the sinking of a boat and that Mr Kelly had “shot every dog in Donegal town”. Her complaints were then put in an email sent to the official investigating complaints against Mr Kelly. The complaints, Mr Rogers submitted, displayed bias against his client.

He said Mr Kelly knew nothing of the Minister’s complaints against him until March 2009 following a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

Mr Kelly did offer pilotage services, not do this for personal gain but rather to ensure good and safe management of the harbour, Mr Rogers said, of which the department was aware since 2000.

He said Mr Kelly had also accepted he had a small shareholding in a company that provided marine services, but his contract of employment did not prohibit him from being involved in such a firm.

The hearing continues before Mr Justice John Hedigan.