Ruth Barror says she was unfairly dismissed by Catholic charity Accord
Former director says attempt to offer counselling to gay and unmarried people triggered redundancy
Ruth Barror was employed by Accord, an organisation set up by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, between October 2008 and January 2012.
The former national director of Catholic marriage advisory charity Accord has claimed she was unfairly made redundant after a motion to extend the full range of couples counselling to divorced, gay and unmarried people was passed at the organisation’s annual meeting.
Ruth Barror from Clontarf, Dublin, was employed by Accord, an organisation set up by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, between October 2008 and January 2012 on a salary of more than €100,000.
Her counsel Síle O’Kelly told an Employment Appeals Tribunal yesterday Ms Barror was told she was being made redundant because of financial constraints, but “the real reason for her dismissal” was because of a motion passed at Accord’s annual meeting in October 2011.
Motion five, originally tabled by the Accord Wexford centre, proposed to make “the full range of counselling and therapy services” available to all those seeking them from the organisation. Ms O’Kelly claimed Accord president Bishop Christopher Jones had said if the motion was passed, the organisation would be closed down.
It was passed by a large majority of the 800 lay delegates at the meeting and Bishop Jones had felt “intimidated, threatened and blackmailed”, the tribunal was told. Motion five was subsequently ruled invalid by the national executive committee. Ms O’Kelly said her client had taken wage cuts and was willing to take more, but her suggestions were rejected.
Tom Mallon, for Accord, said the matter was “a relatively straightforward redundancy”.
Ms Barror had a three-year fixed-term contract which was extended for three months and then not renewed, he said. It was “a red herring” to suggest there had been an ulterior motive. The organisation relied on Government funding and it had been subject to cuts of 13 per cent over the last few years and “simply had to cut back”.
Giving evidence for Accord, Harry Casey, executive administrator of the commissions and agencies of the bishops’ conference, told the tribunal there were eight full-time and eight part-time staff at Accord head office and Ms Barror had not been replaced.
The national executive committee usually sifted through motions in advance of the annual meeting to decide if they were operational or a change of policy, Mr Casey said. No motion that would amend the constitution of the organisation could be put at an annual meeting without first being approved by the Bishops Conference.
The problem with motion five was that Accord had a difficulty with offering sex therapy to people who were not married. They did offer conflict resolution, addiction and other counselling to unmarried couples, he said, but did not refer them to psycho-sexual specialists. The teaching was clear: “Sex before marriage is not something the Catholic Church ever promoted”.
He had no memory of any discussion about motion five at a meeting of the bishop’s conference a month later at which it was decided Ms Barror should be made redundant. He admitted to having avoided her in the days following the decision because he was embarrassed.
Bishop Jones was “equally upset, and tense and nervous”, Mr Casey said, and asked him to attend the meeting with Ms Barror to tell her the bad news on December 16th. “She amazed me with her graciousness and strength,” he said.
The case was adjourned until April.