Unite boss Graham ‘not amenable’ to Irish law, tribunal hears in Ogle discrimination case

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Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 05/05/2024 - 7:29am in

‘Extraordinary position’ taken by general secretary in bid to avoid testimony and cross-examination could result in prosecution

Unite union general secretary Sharon Graham has taken the ‘extraordinary position’ that she is not ‘amenable’ to Irish law, lawyers acting for senior trade unionist Brendan Ogle have told a Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) tribunal. Unite’s lawyers had first used the term during February’s session of Ogle’s discrimination case against Unite, when Ogle’s barrister Mary Paula Guinness BL raised the topic of WRC adjudicator, former UN prosecutor Elizabeth Spelman, issuing a subpoena to compel Graham’s appearance to give sworn evidence. Graham’s lawyers have subsequently confirmed her refusal to appear voluntarily.

Last Friday, the employment tribunal held a hearing, in Ogle’s Employment Equality Act 1998 complaint against Unite, of Ogle’s request for Graham, who is usually based in London, to be compelled to appear in Dublin for questioning under oath.

Ogle is claiming that Unite discriminated against him by sidelining him on his return from treatment for life-threatening cancer – and that he was told that the issue was that Graham ‘recognises loyalty’ from those who supported her in Unite’s 2021 general secretary election. Ogle, like many Irish figures and branches, supported Graham’s rival, Howard Beckett.

Graham’s lawyers argued that there is no need for Graham to appear because Unite will send a subordinate, Ogle’s former colleague, Tom Fitzgerald, to refute Ogle’s claim.

Sharon Graham has previously cancelled appearances in the Republic, avoiding members’ anger and scrutiny over the union’s ‘disgraceful’ treatment of Brendan Ogle. The situation caused such outrage in Ireland that union members picketed Graham’s long-delayed visit to Dublin, Unite’s Community section condemned it as ‘disgusting’ and a whole sector branch threatened to disaffiliate.

The tribunal had given Graham until 12 April for Ms Graham to respond to Ogle’s lawyers’ request to attend the next set of hearings at the end of this month, after which Spelman would hear legal argument the request for a formal summons. Graham did not respond. If a subpoena is eventually requested and issued, refusal to comply is a prosecutable criminal offence under Ireland’s ‘Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2018‘.

Guinness, representing Ogle, told the tribunal that it is clear that Graham has “relevant information” in the case:

This is a general secretary who is general secretary over Unite in Ireland; it appears if we are to rely on the respondent’s submission that she has instructed her representatives that she is not amenable to Irish law.

She described the refusal as an “extraordinary” position, referring to Graham’s recent attendance at policy conferences in Dublin, Unite’s status as an active union in Ireland. and Ogle’s separate High Court defamation proceedings against Graham, her right-hand man Tony Woodhouse and the union, in which Graham is scheduled to appear, adding that:

She is general secretary of the whole union, including the union in Ireland. They have a head office here, her authority is exercised – it would be an unusual situation if she was to say she is not amenable to Irish law…

[Unite’s rulebook giving the general secretary sole power to change the responsibilities of union officers] all links in to the fact that in their submission they say this change arose after [Graham’s] election as general secretary.

Unite is the UK’s second-biggest union and one of only a handful of UK unions also active in the Republic of Ireland, with thousands of members in several sectors. Its lawyers claim that the WRC has no jurisdiction to compel Graham to attend.

However, if a summons is issued and Graham refuses to comply, she could face potential arrest if she returns to Ireland and a possible prison sentence and large fine under the Employment Act.

Adjudicator Spelman said she would communicate her decision on the summons in writing to both parties before the next set of hearings begins on 27 May.

In other news, Brendan Ogle announced this week that he will stand in as an independent candidate for Dublin in Ireland’s European Parliament elections in June.

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