ISPCA chair claims suspension from charity unlawful and unfair

Judge urges Fiona Squibb to seek to mediate dispute linked to grievance filed by chief executive

A High Court judge urged Fiona Squibb to seek mediation in  the case she has taken against the ISPCA due to the potential costs involved. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times.

A High Court judge urged Fiona Squibb to seek mediation in the case she has taken against the ISPCA due to the potential costs involved. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times.

 

The chairwoman of the Irish Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA) has claimed before the High Court that her suspension from the charity’s board is unlawful, unfair and fundamentally flawed.

Fiona Squibb, who denies any wrongdoing, was suspended from the role earlier this year. She claims she has been an animal welfare volunteer with the ISPCA for 20 years and a director of the charity since 2017.

The membership elected her as chair of the ISPCA last year after the previous holder retired. She claims, following her appointment, ISPCA chief executive Andrew Kelly went on sick leave for medical stress.

In late December, Ms Squibb claims Mr Kelly sought to return to work but he sent a letter demanding she and another director resign or else he would raise a grievance with the Charities Regulator.

Mr Kelly, she claims, has expressed his dissatisfaction with her election as chair and had long sought her removal as a director. She claims, as chair, she remained professional in her approach towards him.

Grievance

Following his return to work, she claims he submitted a grievance about her to the ISPCA board and claimed she had undermined his position. She and another director were suspended pending the outcome of a grievance procedure.

She claims the suspension decision has damaged her reputation and implies she has done something wrong, which she denies. Her counsel, John Temple BL, told the court on Monday that the procedure was fundamentally flawed and the terms of the investigation do not observe the principles of natural justice or fair procedures.

No formal allegation has been made against Ms Squibb and, if there is one, she is unaware what policy or code she is said to have violated. The grievance process, it is claimed, lacks transparency.

Ms Squibb also claims Mr Kelly was the subject of a disciplinary process two years ago and was not suspended and her suspension is unfair and without merit.

Mediation

In proceedings against the ISPCA, she is seeking various orders including an injunction. When the case came before Ms Justice Leonie Reynolds, the judge urged Ms Squibb to consider mediating her dispute with the ISPCA.

The judge said she was making no order at this stage, given the costs involved with High Court litigation, and because Ms Squibb is a volunteer who does not receive any payment for what she does for the ISPCA.

The judge, who raised a number of issues about the application, said it was not in Ms Squibb’s interest for the court to make any order at this stage.

An application could be made in the future, but, as well as urging mediation, the judge said, given the costs involved, Ms Squibb should consider bringing proceedings in the Circuit Court, where legal costs would be lower.