Malcolm Byrne Aodhagán Ó Súird

Malcolm Byrne

THE IMPROPER sacking of Aodhagán Ó Súird as principal of Wexford primary school Gaelscoil Moshíológ has generated plenty of headlines given the 11 years it took for the matter to be finalised in the Four Courts earlier this month.

Goldhawk, however, feels that the starring role played by Fianna Fáil senator Malcolm Byrne has not got the credit it deserves.

Fans of The Phoenix will be familiar with the long-running saga over Ó Súird’s dismissal (see The Phoenix 1/7/22). The move led to outings in both the Workplace Relations Commission and, following an appeal from the school, the Labour Court, with both bodies coming down strongly in favour of the hapless principal. Indeed, the Labour Court even referred to an “animus against Mr Ó Súird by the board”. The matter then ended up in the High Court as a result of yet another appeal.

In the High Court, Judge Brian Cregan was withering in his criticism of Melanie Ní Dhuinn, and the school board of management that she chaired, in which Malcolm Byrne was, significantly, acting chair during much of the school’s relentless pursuit of Ó Súird, during which the principal was represented by legal eagle Robert Dore.

The FF senator also chaired the board’s disciplinary panel, which played a central role in the whole debacle, carrying out a hearing over a number of days.

At the heart of the story is the fact that in Aodhagán Ó Súird was initially accused of a “minor incident” in the classroom but then found himself on the end of a significantly widened investigation, accused of inflating pupil numbers in the school unbeknownst to the board of management (which was not the case), in order to boost his own income as a result. In fact, his pay was never increased as a result of this matter.

A final comprehensive report on these allegations was never prepared by Ní Dhuinn, leaving the allegations to “hang in the air”, according to Cregan, and putting Ó Súird “in the Kafkaesque position of being unable to defend himself”. Most significantly, “there was no evidence of fraud” and no finding of fraud was ever actually made. The allegations were eventually withdrawn years later.

Cregan highlights that “an important figure” in the whole sorry saga was Malcolm Byrne, who signed the 2015 letter officially sacking Ó Súird, in which he referred to “the deliberate falsification of documents”. At that time, Byrne had been acting chair of the board of management as Ní Dhuinn was acting in the role of ‘prosecutor’. In relation to incorrect allegation of fraudulent behaviour, Cregan noted the “abysmal failure… by the board of management and the board of management disciplinary panel” (chaired by Byrne).

Moreover, although neither the school’s disciplinary panel nor the disciplinary appeal panel made an actual finding of fraud against Ó Súird, Byrne told the Labour Court that the principal had been dismissed “as a consequence of the fraud he had committed”. Cregan described this evidence as “most improper”.

According to the judge, Byrne’s interpretation of the evidence presented to the disciplinary panel was “utterly wrong”. The judge noted that the Labour Court did not accept Byrne’s evidence and “it was right to do so”. In fact, Cregan found that the FFer’s evidence to the Labour Court was “simply extraordinary”.

Maybe Malcolm should concentrate on his Seanad duties.

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