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Nolan granted temporary injunction to stop dismissal

The High Court has granted a temporary injunction restraining the dismissal of Professor Philip Nolan from his position as Director General of Science Foundation Ireland (SFI).

The court was told the dismissal was truly astonishing and extraordinary without any conceivable justification.

The orders prevent SFI from dismissing Prof Nolan, from treating him as having been dismissed, or from appointing anyone else to the position.

Senior Counsel Padraic Lyons told the court that Prof Nolan was notified in an email on Monday night that he was being dismissed from his role as Director General of SFI without any disciplinary hearing or opportunity for him to deal with allegations made against him.

The court was told that Prof Nolan had been appointed to his role in SFI to carry out reforms but in a sworn document, he said he had encountered significant resistance to this within senior management.

Prof Nolan said that when he was appointed as CEO designate of a proposed new body Research Ireland, this was seen as an endorsement of him, and did not go down well with those opposed to his reforming agenda.

Mr Lyons said that complaints of bullying were made by five people in late December 2023.

A report was prepared by Senior Counsel, Tom Mallon who found there had been no breaches of corporate governance and no bullying but concluded Prof Nolan had a case to answer that there had been “inappropriate behaviour” falling short of bullying and a disciplinary process would be required to consider these allegations.

Mr Lyons said that up until Monday, it had been indicated that a process would be followed, in which Prof Nolan would have the opportunity to meet the allegations.

However, he said at a board meeting on Monday afternoon, the board took a “truly astonishing and precipitous course of action” when it decided to dismiss the professor.

In an email sent to his lawyers on Monday night, SFI said it would not be in SFI’s or Prof Nolan’s interests to initiate a disciplinary process.

Mr Lyons said this was a staggering statement and there was a proposition that the very fact of the allegations being made at all could be sufficient for summary dismissal.

‘Almost unprecedented’ course of action

The court was told this was an “almost unprecedented” course of action which was extremely damaging to Prof Nolan. He said there was no conceivable justification for his dismissal in the way it had been effected.

Mr Lyons said Prof Nolan had no warning and was stripped of his employment in the most egregious fashion.

His sacking was linked in media reports to the allegations made against him, he said. The court was told that the leaking of the allegations must have come from someone in SFI.

Mr Lyons told the court this was not a case about fair procedures – it was a case about no procedures.

He said that throughout all of his career in public service, including his ten years as President of Maynooth University and his time on the National Public Health Emergency Team during the Covid-19 pandemic, Prof Nolan had never been the subject of any workplace complaint of any kind.

The court was told Prof Nolan emphatically rejected the allegations that he engaged in inappropriate behaviour.

But Mr Lyons said insofar as that was the perception of anyone who worked with him or may work with him in the future, he was open to addressing it via mediation.

He said if the dismissal was allowed to stand, Prof Nolan’s reputation and professional prospects would be grievously and irredeemably tarnished. He said the precipitous actions of the board could not be allowed to stand.

Dismissed without a disciplinary hearing

Mr Justice Rory Mulcahy said Prof Nolan had made out a strong case likely to succeed at a full trial. He said Prof Nolan had been dismissed without a disciplinary hearing which appeared on the evidence presented to him to be a clear breach of fair procedures.

The judge also found that given the strength of the case Prof Nolan had put forward, the balance of justice lay with granting the injunction sought.

But he said the injunction would only apply until tomorrow afternoon when the matter will come back before the court.

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