A garda sergeant who suffered permanent eye damage when he was attacked on duty by a man with a rock has said the force blocked him from keeping up his work as a public order trainer and left him to “sit and rot” in an office.
In a rare development, the Workplace Relations Commission has also issued a witness summons to bring a serving senior officer before it to give evidence in the sergeant’s equality claim against the force.
Sergeant David Haughney, who lost 70 per cent of his sight in his left eye in a December 2014 assault near Youghal, Co Cork, told the Workplace Relations Commission on Thursday he had continued working as a public order trainer and tactical adviser for nearly three and a half years after getting back to work – only to be told he was barred from any “confrontational” duties after undergoing a further operation.
Sgt Haughney has lodged a complaint under the Employment Equality Act 1998, alleging An Garda Síochána failed to make reasonable accommodation for his disability, a complaint which the force denies.
In evidence to the tribunal, Sgt Haughney said after he recovered from an operation for a detached retina in April 2019, the vision in his left eye was no worse than it was before.
The sergeant said he was attached to the roads policing division at Midleton but that he spent 70 per cent of his working time supervising public order training or advising senior officers on crowd control during major operations – an area he said he had pursued since early in his career and returned to for a short time after his operation.
However, Sgt Haughney said that his new superintendent, Adrian Gamble at Midleton, met with him in October 2019, and told him the advice of the garda chief medical officer restricting him to “non-confrontational duties” meant that could no longer continue.
“This changes everything ... my interpretation of this is you can’t go out, you can’t drive, certainly nothing to do with public order or training,” Supt Gamble is alleged to have told Sgt Haughney.
“It was just absolutely blank no on everything – no suggestion as to what I could, do,” Sgt Haughney said – adding that the tone of the meeting could only be described as “aggressive”.
The tribunal was told Supt Gamble would give evidence to dispute Sgt Haughney’s account of the matter and would say the meeting was “businesslike and professional”.
Sgt Haughney said he was then transferred to work for 11 months in a former telephone exchange which served as the traffic office at Midleton Garda station.
During this time, he said he was repeatedly refused permission to attend training events or carry out duties as a tactical adviser by Supt Gamble.
He added that he had been allowed to go on some occasions, but only after making representations to other senior officers.
The tribunal heard that, after Sgt Haughney raised a grievance against Supt Gamble, he later accepted a transfer to a station in the Cork City district, reporting to Supt John Deasy – and was permitted to resume public order duties and qualified as a trainer.
This ended when new instructions were given to the garda college requiring a fitness test for the role, the tribunal was told.
Adjudicating officer Jim Dolan has granted an application by the complainant to have Supt Deasy brought before the tribunal to give evidence. There was no objection from the respondent side.
“All the things I worked for all my life in the job, they were being eroded and taken away from me,” Sgt Haughney told the tribunal. “I’d say it’s comical except it’s not. I’ve experienced what it is. I spent 11 months in a room on my own. Any little outing I got was just blocked.”
In responding submissions, the force acknowledged the assault had “life-changing effects” on an officer who had served “with loyalty and diligence” and made “strenuous efforts to return to duty”.
“An Garda Síochána is fully committed to using the skill set of the complainant as a highly experienced sergeant to the end of his career and committed to [providing him] a fulfilling and meaningful role,” the submission read.
“They’re words on a page which mean absolutely nothing to me,” Sgt Haughney said when they were put to him by his solicitor, Michael Hegarty.
Sgt Haughney rejected the suggestion put to him by Declan Harmon BL, appearing for the force, that the public order duties had amounted to around 30 per cent of his role.
Mr Harmon also put it to the complainant that the medical advice was distinct from an operational decision by his commanding officer and that there was a “high burden” placed on Supt Gamble by the advice to assign “strictly nonconfrontational duties”.
Sgt Haughney replied that there had been a precedent set by his previous commanders about what duties were “confrontational” in his case.
Mr Harmon’s cross-examination was suspended after a legal dispute arose and adjudicating officer Jim Dolan adjourned the matter overnight.