Nationwide official fails to halt inquiry

 

AN IRISH Nationwide Building Society branch manager has lost a High Court bid to prevent an inquiry into his conduct relating to his own borrowings and his handling of certain customer accounts, including that of a property developer alleged to owe some €36 million to the society.

Noel Harrington, manager of the Irish Nationwide Building Society branch at Cruise’s Street in Limerick, was placed on paid leave on January 26th last pending an inquiry by an independent investigator, appointed by the building society.

Yesterday, Mr Justice Garret Sheehan rejected his application for an injunction, to continue pending the outcome of a full action; to restore him to his position and to halt the inquiry unless constituted with his consent and subject to his entitlements.

The judge said it was important to point out that Mr Harrington faces no allegations, is on full pay and is not regarded by his employer as being under suspension.

The judge said he was satisfied this was not one of those rare cases whereby someone could be restored to their position while an investigation was under way.

He added that Mr Harrington did not question the independent investigator’s integrity or professionalism, but did attack the inquiry’s terms of reference.

The manner in which the investigator proposed to proceed with the inquiry accorded fair procedures to Mr Harrington, the judge said.

While there may be a fair question to be tried and damages may be an inadequate remedy for Mr Harrington, the balance of convenience favoured the building society in refusing the application to stop the investigation, the judge said.

The High Court heard during the two-day hearing that the investigation was into Mr Harrington’s conduct relating to his own borrowings connected with properties at Catherine Street, Limerick, and relating to the handling of certain customer accounts.

Mr Harrington claimed the building society was using the investigation to engage in “a scapegoating exercise” .

He said he was not responsible for the handling of accounts of a property developer who owed some €36 million to the building society and alleged those accounts were mandated and controlled from Irish Nationwide head office. He also said he had an explanation for matters related to his own borrowings.

He argued that an inquiry into his conduct should be carried out in a more open and transparent way.

Irish Nationwide argued the investigation was fair and was being carried out by a solicitor who was independent of the company. It further contended the investigation was necessary and rejected Mr Harrington’s claims to have fully co-operated with it.