Man in stand-off with armed gardaí unfairly dismissed

Tribunal orders Clare County Council to pay former employee €30,000 over dismissal

A tribunal has ruled that a council foreman who is alleged to have threatened to turn himself into a “human fireball” in a one-man protest has been unfairly dismissed.

In its ruling, the Employment Appeals Tribunal has ordered employer Clare County Council to pay Joseph Floyd snr, Lower Main Street, Tulla, €30,000 for the unfair dismissal.

Mr Floyd told the tribunal that he wanted his old council foreman job back as he had been unable to get work since being dismissed in September 2011, but it has ruled out reinstatement.

In May 2010, Siptu shop steward Mr Floyd locked himself into a van at a council roadworks programme in the east Clare village of Feakle with a lighter and petrol in protest at the council hiring outside contractors and safety concerns he had over the practice.

According to the report, Mr Floyd threatened to set himself and plant machinery on fire. Mr Floyd denied to the hearing making those threats.

His protest resulted in a five-hour stand-off that involved armed members of the Garda Emergency response Unit along with other gardaí, the fire service and the ambulance service.

“Abbeylara scenario”

Siptu organiser Tony Kenny told the tribunal, which sat over four days in Ennis, that “the Abbeylara scenario was on everyone’s minds”. In 2000, John Carthy was shot dead by armed gardaí in controversial circumstances after a 25-hour siege at Abbeylara.

Mr Floyd told the tribunal that members of the ERU had their Uzi machine guns trained on him and he said “this was a typical bullying exercise and the council was using the ERU and the gardaí to bully a worker”.

In his evidence, senior council official Leonard Cleary said “there was a very serious risk of loss of life” at the stand-off and this governed all of his actions on the day.

Mr Kenny negotiated with the council to provide a letter to Mr Floyd that he remained a council worker in spite of the stand-off and Mr Floyd ended his protest as a result.

Mr Cleary told the tribunal that the letter was given under duress and had defused the situation and restored calm.

The report said that the following day, the council placed Mr Floyd on administrative leave out of concern for his welfare. It recorded that the council did not tell Mr Floyd not to have any contact with the media and he conducted a live interview with Clare FM the following Monday on the stand- off and his grievances.

Hours after the interview, Mr Floyd was suspended by the council in order for it to investigate the allegation of gross misconduct by bringing the council into disrepute.

A council investigation found that Mr Floyd was guilty of gross misconduct and he was fired in September 2011. However, the tribunal found that Mr Floyd was sacked because he went on Clare FM.

Not been charged

The tribunal said it found it unfair that the council found Mr Floyd guilty of serious insubordination although he had not been charged with that.

“There was a lack of evidence to substantiate the charge of bringing the name of the council into disrepute. The tribunal was not satisfied that this charge was sufficiently proven to warrant dismissal.”

The three-member tribunal awarded Mr Floyd €30,000. The council has the option of appealing the ruling to the Circuit Court.

Gordon Deegan

Gordon Deegan

Gordon Deegan is a contributor to The Irish Times