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Actions by friend came as ‘gravest disappointment’

Trade unionist Brendan Ogle has said it came as the “gravest disappointment” to him that a colleague he had considered a friend was allegedly seeing to it that he was “written out” of Unite’s plans for the Republic of Ireland.

His case under the Employment Equality Act 1998, in which he has accused the Unite trade union of discriminating against him on disability grounds by taking away his duties when he returned to work in 2022 after surviving a “very aggressive” cancer, is continuing at the Workplace Relations Commission in Dublin.

Mr Ogle’s evidence is that he was told by a colleague in Dublin, Tom Fitzgerald, that the union’s general secretary Sharon Graham wanted a new strategy for Ireland drawn up – and that she had made a “directive” that Mr Ogle was not to be included in it.

Mr Ogle said his line manager, former regional officer for Ireland Jackie Pollock, and a Unite human resources manager, Richard Griffiths, they both expressed surprise at this suggestion.

The complainant later attended a meeting in London with the general secretary’s “right-hand woman”, Gail Cartmail, he said, where any such directive was denied.

Mr Ogle told the tribunal that he had backed another candidate publicly for the role of general secretary, while Mr Fitzgerald had been a supporter of Ms Graham.

Ms Cartmail’s words to him were: “Sharon operates on the basis of loyalty,” Mr Ogle said.

He added that it was explained to him that the new general secretary “was very supportive to officers who supported her, and gave broad discretion to how those officers used her office and name to get the job done”.

Mr Ogle said he had “no reason” to question Ms Cartmail at the time as it was still “early in the process” and he was “optimistic of turning the situation around”.

“Your honestly-held belief is that a wide discretion has been given to Tom Fitzgerald,” Mark Harty SC, appearing for the trade union, asked the complainant.

“That’s my honestly-held belief,” Mr Ogle said.

“Why do you say Tom Fitzgerald has used this discretion to force you out?” Mr Harty said.

“I don’t know. It’s the source of the gravest disappointment to me, given our history, and what I had considered friendship,” he said.

“You asked me a question; are we close. We’re closer than close,” Mr Ogle said.

“You were never told you were to be written out of a strategy,” Mr Harty said to the complainant later.

“I absolutely was,” the complainant said.

Mr Fitzgerald is expected to give evidence on a future date. Mr Harty is continuing his cross-examination of the complainant this afternoon .

At the start of the case on Tuesday, former Unite general secretary said Mr Ogle was promoted on foot of a job evaluation in 2018 and assigned duties in the political arena to make up for the fact that its members in the Republic had voted to disaffiliate from the Labour Party in Ireland.

Counsel for the complainant, Mary-Paula Guinness BL, put it to him that the union had taken the position that Mr Ogle’s senior officer position was “a role created for the complainant in 2018”, a proposition Mr McCluskey called “completely and utterly untrue” and “frankly insulting”.

“There’s some suggestion that because he was a personal friend of mine that I parachuted Brendan into this position. That’s absolutely and utterly wrong,” Mr McCluskey later told Mr Harty.

Ms Guinness told the tribunal yesterday that Unite’s general secretary Ms Graham was a relevant witness because the union’s position was that a “change in policy” was being used as “an excuse for why Mr Ogle’s role was decimated”.

She said she would be making an application to have her summoned as a witness.

Mr Harty’s response was that the WRC process “should not be utilised by Mr Ogle to try and force people to come and give evidence in Dublin” – adding that his three penalisation claims were “dropped as utterly false stalking horses”.

“It would seem the discrimination claim is also a false stalking horse to get Sharon Graham to come and give evidence in Dublin. Time should not be wasted on this issue,” he said.

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