Judge labels Eir a ‘disgrace’ after court heard customer service manuals warned staff not to obey law

In wake of court case, telecom provider ‘categorically rejects’ accusations of instructing customer care team ‘to not comply with regulatory obligations’

A judge has labelled Eir a “disgrace” after a court heard evidence that the telecom provider warned staff they could be disciplined for adhering to statutory regulations governing customer complaints.

In a Dublin District Court case taken by ComReg, Eir and its parent company, Eircom, pleaded guilty to multiple breaches of the law over its failure to acknowledge customer complaints and provide responses within 10 working days among other issues.

At the hearing, ComReg produced an Eir training manual which, the watchdog said, warned employees they would face disciplinary proceedings if following laws covering customer complaints.

The same manual also outlined “trigger words” that would allow people calling Eir with complaints have them dealt with expeditiously. If those words were not used, concerns frequently went nowhere.


The court heard that updates made by Eir to its code of practice for complaints handling in January 2021 resulted in restrictions to its customers’ ability to log formal complaints.

Specifically, customers could not complain by calling 1901, its published customer care number, and could only log complaints by calling a dedicated complaints number or using an online complaint form.

In many cases, customers who repeatedly contacted the company by phone, letter or the online complaint form were unable to log a formal complaint.

Barrister Shelley Horan, for ComReg, outlined a sample of customers whose complaints were not dealt with by Eir in accordance with the regulator’s code of practice.

Giving evidence before Judge Anthony Halpin, ComReg compliance analyst Michelle O’Donnell said the watchdog had received multiple complaints from Eir customers unable to lodge formal complaints.

The court heard of one customer whose signal dropped as she tried to dial 999 on behalf of a sick child so she had to drive her daughter to A&E for urgent medical attention.

In response, ComReg sought the training manual issued to customer service staff.

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In one section, boxed off in red and underlined in bold, staff were told that “under no circumstances are the complaints number or complaints webpage address to be provided to any customer”. It warns that “any agent found to be doing this will be subject to a disciplinary under call avoidance”.

Another section outlined “trigger words” callers could use which included: “I want to log a formal/official complaint” and “I want a case reference number”. Those using more common phrases such as: “I want a supervisor” or “I want to complain” found complaints were often not dealt with.

In a statement after the court case, Eir said it fully complies with ComReg complaints procedures” although it acknowledged that “the language previously used in training material could have been clearer in this regard.”

A later statement issued to The Irish Times went further.

“During today’s court session, ComReg made serious, unprecedented and incorrect allegations against Eir, accusing us of instructing our customer care team to not comply with regulatory obligations; we categorically reject these accusations.

“The claims by ComReg, based on documents they interpreted incorrectly, could have been easily clarified had they engaged with us directly in advance of the court hearing. The slides in question were taken out of context. They are part of training material for new customer service agents, outlining the steps they should take to escalate calls to Eir’s dedicated specialist complaint management team.”

It concluded by saying it was “regrettable and deeply concerning that ComReg chose to introduce these incorrect claims without notice” and insisted it was ”committed to the highest standards of compliance and integrity, and we take our legal responsibilities very seriously. At no point has Eir directed any team member to act contrary to legal or regulatory obligations.”

In response, a spokesman for ComReg noted that Eir did not raise objection to the facts underlying any of the 10 cases before the court. He said that the training manual had been provided by Eir in the course of a formal investigation into the company’s complaints handling processes and procedures. “It formed part of the book of disclosure in the prosecution,” he said.

Hugh McDowell, for Eircom and Eir, pleaded guilty to the charges before the court and said it wanted to apologise to customers and to ComReg, adding that it had offered to make a charitable donation amounting to €20,000.

He stressed that practices had changed and the company was now in full compliance with regulations.

However, Judge Halpin said he could not accept the charitable donation given the seriousness of the case.

“I don’t think I can do it primarily because of what I see in the training manual,” Judge Halpin said. “I know that this has changed and it is no longer the process.”

He said he could “only assume the training manual was not vetted by the legal department because that would jump out at you under Irish labour law”.

Judge Halpin labelled the company “a disgrace” and called on it to apologise to staff, who had been threatened with disciplinary action if they did not adhere to its policies.

Fining the company €750 for each of 10 counts before the court, he described the warning to employees as an “aggravating factor” in the case.

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast