Director of Áras Attracta settles case over alleged HSE ‘re-discipline’ move

Woman on paid leave since winning appeal over decision to dismiss her

A woman on paid administrative leave from her job as programme director of the HSE’s Áras Attracta facility has settled her case over an alleged HSE move to “re-discipline” her after she won an appeal over a decision to dismiss her.

The terms of settlement were not disclosed.

Ann Burns was placed on leave in March 2014, before the events at the Swinford, Co Mayo facility for intellectually disabled adults which featured in an RTÉ Prime Time Investigates programme, her counsel Feichín McDonagh SC, with Clare Bruton BL, told Mr Justice Robert Eagar.

The issues in her High Court case did not arise from those events, he stressed.


Ms Burns, of Westport, was informed in March 2014 of a disciplinary process arising from issues concerning her management at Áras Attracta, he said.

Three years on, she remains on paid leave despite winning in July 2015 her appeal against an earlier decision by HSE area director Tony Canavan she should be dismissed, he said.

What happened after that appeal decision was “extraordinary” and the focus of her complaints in this case, he said. Mr Canavan conducted a disciplinary process without involving Ms Burns and decided in November 2016 to impose a “final written warning” to remain on her file as Áras Attracta programme director for 12 months.

Her case was that she was entitled to resume her job, but, if the court considered the HSE had established another person was doing similar duties and it was not possible for her to return, she wanted declarations and damages, he said.

After counsel outlined her claim on Wednesday, talks began between the sides and the judge was later told the case had been settled.

Mr McDonagh said the “intricate” issues had been resolved to the satisfaction of both sides and he wanted orders striking out the proceedings and various orders made to date.

Peter Ward SC, with Tom Mallon BL, for the HSE, consented to that.

Earlier, Mr McDonagh said Ms Burns was told in March 2014 of a disciplinary process against her concerning issues arising from her management of Áras Attracta. The court was not concerned with those issues, he said.

Not punishment

She was put on paid or administrative leave never intended, and not regarded, as punishment. An investigation ultimately lead to the Devine and Kyne-Doyle report being given in June 2015 to the HSE.

In October 2015, she was informed by the HSE, based on that report, it was satisfied the allegations initially made against her had been partially upheld. A formal disciplinary meeting was convened to address four issues – the dining routine at Áras Attracta; nutritional policy and dietetics service; implementing change; and the response to known dietetic deficiencies in April 2012.

Ms Burns was later summoned to a disciplinary hearing conducted by Mr Canavan on December 10th, 2015 and told the following day she was being dismissed, the “most radical and serious penalty” for someone who had served for years.

An independent appeals panel upheld her appeal in December 2015 over the disciplinary hearing and was “very critical” of the process adopted, he said.

While that was the end of the disciplinary process, what happened after was “extraordinary” and subject of the judicial review. Ms Burns should have been put back on duty but was not. She was not reassigned or made redundant and her employment status and duties were not altered.

Mr Canavan wrote to her in November 2016 informing her he had conducted on his own a further disciplinary decision with no involvement of her and decided to impose a final written warning to stay on her file for 12 months.

Ms Burns’ primary case was she had won her appeal and remains in her post as a matter of law and that was “the end of the matter”. She also claimed Mr Canavan had no basis to act as he did in November 2016.

While the HSE had referred to possible reassignments for Ms Burns, she was dissatisfied with its suggestions and considered her only option was to return to the job she believes she has. If the court considered an order for her return not possible, it may have to consider granting a declaration after which damages would have to be assessed, counsel said.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times