A former Horse Sport Ireland (HSI) employee is taking a personal injuries case against the national governing body for equestrian sports over alleged bullying at work.
The State-funded body was subject to major governance turmoil late last year when its entire board stood down after a fallout between directors.
Several board members who resigned had raised concerns about the significant sums the organisation was spending on severance payments and settlements in legal cases.
Nadia Rea, previously assistant manager of HSI’s breeding services, earlier this month became the latest former employee to take a legal case against the organisation. She is alleging that, from late 2021 onwards, she was subjected to bullying and an unreasonable level of stress at work. Ms Rea’s case alleges that her position in HSI was undermined, leading her to feel isolated and demoralised.
She alleges that she was removed from her role as assistant breeding manager at the start of last year and was then given new targets that she felt were unachievable.
Ms Rea’s case alleges that as a result of stress she collapsed while working from home and took sick leave for around four weeks following consultation with a doctor. She alleges that she continued to be contacted by senior HSI staff via email while on sick leave.
After returning to work, it is claimed, she was given conflicting and menial instructions, as well as being excluded from projects.
The plaintiff alleged she was brought to hospital by ambulance in July of last year due to severe stress, panic attacks and anxiety related to her working conditions. Ms Rea resigned from HSI in July and her personal injuries case was filed earlier this month.
A HSI spokesman said the organisation could not comment on a matter that was before the courts. Joseph Fitzpatrick of Smithwick Solicitors, who is representing Ms Rea, said he could not comment on the case.
The Irish Times previously reported on documents showing that HSI paid more than €650,000 in staff severance or settlement payments between 2018 and last year, as well as spending €400,000 in legal fees on the cases.
The organisation spent €475,000 to settle one case related to a former senior employee who left the organisation in recent years, which involved a significant payment and more than €200,000 in associated legal costs.
Former Fine Gael TD Lucinda Creighton, one of the HSI board members who resigned last year, said at the time that unnecessary legal conflicts and internal unrest were undermining the body’s “financial stability”.
Following the resignation of the entire board last November, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue appointed an interim board, which remains in place.
Ms Rea last month took up a job as operations manager of the Irish Horse Board, a membership organisation for horse breeders that is an affiliate of HSI.
HSI previously took an ill-fated judicial review against a Department of Agriculture decision to award the board a State contract to provide marketing services promoting the industry, which the governing body previously held.
The decision to take a legal challenge against the tender process, which was later dropped, deepened tensions at board level at the time and preceded the series of resignations.
HSI, the governing body for sports such as showjumping and dressage, received €4.7 million in funding from the department this year.