Teacher challenges Teaching Council’s decision to investigate him over social media posts

Gearoid Johnson claims the council has breached his Constitutional rights to freedom of expression and to communicate and to hold opinions and beliefs different to others

A teacher has launched a High Court challenge aimed at preventing the Teaching Council from continuing with a disciplinary process over social media posts he made several years ago on issues including Islam, homosexuality, and transgenderism.

The action has been taken by Gearoid (Gerry) Johnson who has been a secondary school teacher for over 26 years.

The complaint against him arises out of posts he made between 2015 and 2016 on social media, which were deleted shortly afterwards.

The court heard that his posts were expressions of his own personal views on subjects including the treatment of women under Islam, “the Catholic hierarchy,” his views on “the need for a mother and father,” his opinion on there being “a binary distinction between male and female” and “issues around transgenderism”.

The court heard that in 2020 the City of Dublin Education and Training Board (ETB) dismissed him from a teaching job he formerly held at Ballyfermott College of Further Education, following an investigation into alleged bullying which Mr Johnson denies.

He claims the decision to dismiss him was linked to complaints made about his posts.

Based on the postings, the ETB made a further complaint to the Teaching Council, the body that regulates the teaching profession in Ireland.

The complaint alleged that Mr Johnson did not appear to be committed to equality and inclusion, or respect diversity arising from gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, and other grounds.

He denies any wrongdoing, says he has fully explained his posts, and has not been charged with any criminal offence.

The Teaching Council informed Mr Johnson that, based on the findings of its investigating committee, the complaint had been referred to its disciplinary committee.

He claims that the council has breached his Constitutional rights to freedom of expression and to communicate, his right to respect for private life, and to hold opinions and beliefs different to others, including the ETB.

He claims the decision is flawed and unlawful on grounds including that the council failed to make any reference to any of the submissions made by Mr Johnson in response to the complaint against him.

Mr Johnson, who claims he is a libertarian and someone who lived as a gay man for over 30 years, says he gave the council detailed material where he explained the posts and contextualised their contents by reference to other material.

No reasons were advanced by the council for its decision to refer the complaint to the disciplinary committee, he claims.

The council also failed to specify the alleged conduct by Mr Johnson which it deems to amount to professional misconduct, he claims.

He further claims that the decision is irrational and unreasonable, wrong in law, in breach of fair procedures and the council has acted outside of its powers.

The council also took irrelevant matters into account, he claims.

The council, he claims, may only investigate complaints where the alleged conduct constitutes a criminal offence or was of such a nature that it may cause a child or vulnerable person harm.

He claims that it has failed to do this and that the council has failed to clearly identify what he has done that amounts to professional misconduct.

In a sworn statement, he said that his posts between 2015 and 2016 on private accounts had been the subject of almost daily complaints to his then-employer when he worked for the ETB. He did not mention the college in his posts nor did he express his views in the classroom.

He said the former CEO of the ETB did not take action against him over the posts.

He said that during that period he was wrongly denounced and defamed in his former workplace as being a homophobe, racist, misogynist and islamophobe and was subjected to false accusations.

He said that he decided to delete his social media profile in 2016 as an act of goodwill.

He claims that in late 2017 he was the subject of bullying claims, which he said was an attempt to punish him by those persons who had complained about his posts.

He said he was shocked and stunned when he was found to have engaged in bullying, which he denied.

It badly affected his mental and physical health to the degree that he was unable to appeal the decision.

He was suspended for his job for a period, which resulted in a breakdown in his health.

In early 2020 he was informed by the ETB that his employment at Ballyfermot college was to be terminated.

While the Co Kildare-based teacher has found a new teaching job at Moyle Park College, Clondalkin, Dublin 22, he says the ETB decided to make a complaint to the teaching council.

In his action against the Teaching Council, Mr Johnson, represented by Feichin McDonagh SC, with Brendan Hennessy Bl, seeks an order quashing the respondent’s decision to refer a complaint against him to the council’s Disciplinary Committee.

Permission to bring the challenge was granted on an ex-parte basis by Mr Justice Anthony Barr on Monday.

The matter will return before the court in October.