Fine Gael TD denies bullying and harassing his former secretary
Seán Conlan says claims are designed ‘to get headlines and to damage me politically’
A former secretary of Fine Gael TD Seán Conlan claims she was physically prevented from leaving his office while “sobbing uncontrollably” after a heated meeting with him and another staff member.
Evidence in day two of an unfair dismissal case taken by Cathy Shevlin, heard that a meeting in September 2012 to address tensions between herself and Mr Conlan’s parliamentary assistant Sarah Comiskey ended with Ms Shevlin feeling threatened and intimidated.
Outlining the events of that day, Ms Shevlin’s barrister Tom Mallon said his client was very upset and had attempted to leave the office when Mr Conlan moved in front of her and “affectively blocked her exit.”
Mr Conlan denied this.
Ms Shevlin brought an unfair dismissal case before the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) after divisions arose between herself and Ms Comiskey – who the tribunal heard is in a relationship with Mr Conlan – and which were never resolved.
The claimant became the secretarial assistant to the Cavan-Monaghan TD following the 2011 election, a position that pays gross €623 a week. TDs are entitled to hire two staff members – a secretarial and parliamentary assistant.
Earlier, Mr Conlan had denied Ms Shevlin had been bullied and harassed as she claimed, saying she was motivated by “getting headlines” and to inflict political damage.
In cross examination, the tribunal heard Ms Comiskey had taken exception to an email from Ms Shevlin regarding the running of the office, including details on carrying out spell-checks on documents and properly logging calls.
The tension resulting from this email led to a meeting between the three the following day in which Ms Shevlin said she was sitting in between the other two during what became a “heated conversation” about the secretaries’ respective roles. She felt intimidated as Mr Conlan is a solicitor and Ms Comiskey a barrister, he said.
When a letter written by Ms Comiskey outlining her issues was read, Ms Shevlin became upset and attempted to leave. “She was so distressed that she felt at that time faint,” Mr Mallon said. Mr Conlan said this was unfair and untrue and that he felt at the time it was “a spat between two employees and I was going to get somebody independent to look at it”.
Ms Shevlin did not return to work nor attend further proposed meetings to resolve the dispute and was subsequently dismissed in March, 2013.
Mr Conlan had told the tribunal the reason for her dismissal was to do with issues of misconduct and cited a number of examples.
He said he gave Ms Shevlin an oral warning in July 2012 for sharing confidential tally information collected at the general election and which he said was “gold dust” to politicians.
He also said she had posted a comment on Facebook undermining him for his non-attendance at a constituency meeting. On another occasion, while in his employ, she had attempted to have a meeting he was hosting in Monaghan declared invalid and moved, he said.
Ms Shevlin disputes these claims and will say in evidence, yet to be given to the tribunal, that she never received any oral warnings as Mr Conlan claims.
During his own evidence, Mr Conlan had to be told on a number of occasions to answer the questions put to him by Ms Shevlin’s barrister with tribunal chairwoman Niamh O’Carroll Kelly telling him to stop “trying to think five steps ahead”.
Earlier, he dismissed the notion his former secretary had been bullied and harassed.
“I just think it (the claim) was a cheap shot to get headlines and to damage me politically,” he said.
The hearing continues.