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Garda worker bullied by ‘volatile’ senior official

Garda homicide data whistleblower Lois West has said a senior officer failed to support her when she was exposed to sexual harassment and bullying by a “volatile” and “emotionally unstable” senior official at Garda Headquarters, who she said claimed he had shot dead 27 people.

“I felt I was virtually being stalked in my own office. He would come in and sit between me and the door of my office and talk nonsense for maybe three hours. I would have to ask permission to go out to the bathroom,” she said.

The man would also “orchestrate situations where he and I would be on our own together” and would tell her stories about how “multiple previous partners had met some end, some sticky end”, Ms West said.

The identity of the senior official, who no longer works for An Garda Síochána, cannot be reported by order of a Workplace Relations Commission adjudicator.

The WRC is hearing complaints by Ms West, who is on long-term sick leave as deputy head of the Garda Siochána Analytics Service (GSAS), under the Protected Disclosures Act 2014, the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 and the Payment of Wages Act 1991.

Ms West’s barrister, David Byrnes BL, appearing instructed by Felix McTiernan of Noble Law, has said his client has suffered “continuing penalisation” since she and a colleague started challenging the recording of homicide statistics in 2017.

Her case is that she faced bullying, harassment, sexual harassment and had her career held back and her pay cut while on sick leave.

Ms West, who is on long-term sick leave) was continuing her evidence-in-chief following the opening of the first of five days of hearing yesterday.

“He had told me that in course of his previous employment, he had shot dead 27 people. I did what I do with everyone, I took him at face value…but there were a lot of these stories…I was beginning to question the veracity of them,” Ms West said of the senior official she encountered while working at Garda Headquarters.

“While being subject to sexual harassment I was also subject to outbursts of temper,” Ms West said adding that after one such outburst on a Friday she found a bottle of alcohol and a box of chocolates on her desk left by the official.

She also recalled hearing a group of staff who dealt directly with this senior official joking about him in the canteen: “Imagine if he all took us hostage in the building.”

“Whilst they were taking a bit of humour, this man was so volatile and so unpredictable and so unstable they actually had that conversation,” Ms West said.

She said that after she complained to an assistant commissioner about the man’s behaviour and the commissioner called him to a meeting, the man backed out of giving a presentation during a “dreadful confrontation” with her and another colleague.

“To say he was in a rage, he obviously knew we had made representations to Assistant Commissioner Michael O’Sullivan,” Ms West said.

She later got a text telling her: “He’s [the senior official] after leaving, he’s taken a big rucksack and left his official pass and other items on his desk; he’s not coming back.”

The assistant commissioner’s response to her concerns about the senior official came in the form of a letter hand-delivered to her by a sergeant.

The letter was “blow after blow after blow, this man does not care about me, he is not doing anything to protect me or help me,” Ms West said.

“It was clear to me the priority was [the senior official],” she said.

The letter questioned her authority for revoking the senior official’s swipe card and said he would require a new one, as he would be returning to Garda Headquarters after a period of leave, Ms West added.

“He did not know this man or what he was capable of,” Ms West said.

“I broke down. [Jacinta] Dowling and Laura Galligan came into my office because I was in such a state I couldn’t get a breath,” Ms West said, referring to two of her GSAS colleagues who are set to give evidence to the WRC this week.

“The rest of my staff, out of respect for me, left, because they knew I wouldn’t want to be seen,” Ms West said. “On the one hand I was being told I was effectively the head of GSAS on the other I was unable to protect my staff,” she said.

“I didn’t feel safe, I didn’t feel my team was safe; I felt I’d no choice but to go on sick leave,” Ms West said.

After later being informed that the senior official was no longer with the force, Ms West returned to work and said she tried to put the various matters behind her.

However, she said she then learned that a colleague with whom she had been sharing leadership duties in GSAS was being promoted to principal officer grade, one level above her.

She said she had no problem with her colleague being promoted but that she did have a problem with how it happened, as there was “no competition”.

She said she was confused about the situation and that it did “nothing to help my state of mind on where my career was going”.

Ms West said she had to take sick leave again in November 2020 because of a dermatitis condition her GP attributed to workplace stress.

She told the WRC she managed to return to work for just one day in February 2021 on foot of a plan for phased return to work plan recommended by the garda chief medical officer, Dr Oghenovo Oghuvbu.

However, she said that a new manager who had taken over responsibility for GSAS, garda chief information officer Andrew O’Sullivan, made her feel “completely unwanted” when they spoke by phone that day.

She said Mr O’Sullivan told her to drop out of a training course, that she would no longer be managing a team and that she would only be allowed work on “one project, chosen by him” and was not to “expand out into other work”.

“Instead of my return to work being seen as a positive thing, it was completely the opposite. I think at one point I apologised for returning,” she said. She resumed her sick leave the following day, she said.

Ms West said she knew from November 2020 that a principal officer post in GSAS was to be advertised as an internal competition but found out in an April 2021 email from Mr O’Sullivan that it was to be an open competition.

“A big part of why I tried to return to work in February [2021] was that I felt I had to try and salvage my career, get back and apply for that interdepartmental competition when it came up,” she said.

The same month, she said, Mr O’Sullivan “falsely accused” her of breaching the Civil Service sick leave rules by failing to pick up the phone for an appointment with the chief medical officer, an appointment she said she was never told about.

She said that although the chief medical officer apologised to her, the chief information officer, Mr O’Sullivan, never did.

After that she wrote to a liaison officer working with an investigator appointed to look into her complaint about the senior official and said she had “very serious concerns that I have been victimised and penalised by the organisation” for raising the issues with the homicide data and subsequently complaining about the senior official’s conduct.

“Raising these complaints must not have been a popular position in some quarters,” she wrote in the letter.

“I believe I have reached a glass ceiling in An Garda Síochána to the point where my ethical actions are being held against me [and] my career is being stymied,” she said.

Ms West also told the liaison officer she felt that with more junior GSAS staff being promoted to her grade and the competition for the principal officer job being thrown open to wider competition, she was being “set up to fail”.

“If there was a fair competition I feel I would have excelled; I was already operating at the level of principal officer and had been. The problem was that the evidence was building for me that this was never going to be a fair competition,” she said.

The tribunal heard Ms West remains on sick leave from her post to this day and was placed on half pay from March 2021 before being reduced to no pay from December 2022.

Ms West said she had received no follow-up from An Garda Síochána since a letter to her solicitors in which the force responded to the findings of the investigation report examining her complaints about the senior official in June 2022.

“This is why I’m here because I’m at a loss. This is the Workplace Relations Commission, and I have no workplace relations currently,” she said.

“I know the medical evidence will come later in the week, but I’m broken, I’m absolutely broken, because I’ve lost my career,” she said.

Already in tears, Ms West then began to sob audibly.

Adjudicator Roger McGrath said: “It’s all right. I’m going to call it for today. If we need to continue with evidence in chief in the morning, we will.”

He has adjourned the case overnight.

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