AIB official ‘frog-marched’ out of building, tribunal hears

Sean McHugh suspended from bank in 2012 over loans facilitated to Galway United FC

A senior AIB official said was not given a reason at the time of his suspension from the bank in 2012. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

A senior AIB official said was not given a reason at the time of his suspension from the bank in 2012. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

 

A senior official in AIB’s Galway business centre was given ten minutes to clear his desk and “frog-marched” from the building, the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT)has been told.

Sean McHugh (55) told the tribunal he joined the bank from school at the age of 17 and obtained an MBA from the Open University, ultimately filling a key role in lending operations in the west of Ireland.

However in September 2012, he was called to a meeting in Galway city by the head of commercial centres in the west of Ireland Michael Carr. Also present were the national head of commercial centres Brendan O’Connor and head of human resources with AIB’s commercial arm, Claire Appleby.

Mr McHugh said he shocked to be told he was being suspended, and was not given a reason for the suspension. He told his counsel Ercus Stewart SC he had been asked to surrender his company credit cards, his keys and mobile phone.

He was escorted to and from his desk, in an open plan office with colleagues present.

He said his solicitor determined the bank was alleging a conflict of interest related to his position as an officer with Galway United FC, which was in debt to the bank.

Mr McHugh said he had facilitated personal loans to a number of Galway people to benefit the club. He told the tribunal the club needed money urgently to prevent potentially being wound up by the Revenue Commissioners.

Given the club’s indebtedness to the bank, letting it go under would have exposed the bank to a considerable loss, and facilitating personal loans over which the bank would have recourse to the borrowers was protecting the banks interests, he said.

Mr McHugh said he was aware of a colleague who had sanctioned loans to a hurling club he chaired, and another who sanctioned a €2 million loan to a golf club where he was the treasurer.

He said the bank had encouraged involvement in clubs and even paid the subscriptions of some staff. Other managers were found to have been directly involved in companies which received loans for property development, but none had been dismissed, he said.

Mr McHugh said his difficulties had followed a case he successfully took against a new senior manager for bullying.

However, Brian O’Moore SC for AIB questioned Mr McHugh’s definition of a “conflict of interest”. He said the bank’s rules clearly stated it was not necessary to have a personal financial interest in the club for there to be a conflict of interest.

Mr O’Moore said a letter had been circulated to Mr McHugh in 2009 asking for a declaration of organisations of any business or personal interest. It said to “please be aware that a failure to disclose” any such interest would be considered as “gross misconduct”. Mr McHugh had not disclosed involvement in the club, he said.