The takeover of the Riverbank by Kildare County Council in 2008 is set to cost the taxpayer a further €75,000 after the Employment Appeals Tribunal ruled in favour of two former employees of the centre.
Documents released last week reveal that both Paul Winters and Veronica Bagnall, formerly the Technical Manager and Front of House Manager, respectively, were unfairly dismissed.
They were among four people to lose their jobs when Strategic Arts management (SAM), the body which ran the centre, was wound up at the end of August 2008.
Despite applying for their jobs back when the centre re-opened under the management of Riverbank Arts Centre (RAC), neither were successful.
And in an usual move, given that the pair had taken their case against SAM and RAC rather than the County Council, the Tribunal said it was the interference of the Kildare County Council in the affairs of both SAM and RAC that lead to their unfair dismissal.
Mr Winters and Ms Bagnall claimed that while SAM had been wound up and had been replaced by a different organisation, RAC, in terms of their core function, there was effectively no difference between the two organisations.
They also argued that the Centre didn’t cease functioning entirely between September 2008 when SAM was wound up and July 2009 when the first event was run under RAC, although this was disputed by a representative of RAC.
The Tribunal noted evidence that “both claimants’ jobs exist in the new entity. In the circumstances, the Tribunal considers that no real redundancy situation existed.”
It also found that transfer of undertakings that are common in situations like this should have applied to them.
Mr Winters gave evidence that he felt victimised by the County Librarian, Breda Gleeson. He said that they had had an argument over letting performers into a show early and he quoted her as saying “I’ll bring you down, I’ve brought bigger and better down”.
Veronica Bagnall gave evidence that at the time of the difficulties with SAM she was assured by Cllr Michael ‘Spike’ Nolan, Chairperson of SAM that she had nothing to worry about as she was the face of the Arts Centre.
The report states: “She became aware that Luccina Russell, the County Arts Officer, had said that she did not like Paul Winters and this was a way to get rid of him.”
She said she felt pressurised into signing the relevant redundancy form, but took it, and then some months later, when it was advertised, applied, unsuccessfully, for her old job back.
She was “shocked and upset and felt betrayed by her colleagues and friends”.
In its conclusion, the Tribunal said that the “protection of workers is paramount” in transfer of undertaking proceedings like this.
Noting that the “essential function of the Centre remained the same, the same assets were used and the same funding structure of the centre applies”.
And it notes that Kildare County Council “had a high level of involvement in the running of the Arts Centre both under the control of the SAM and again under the RAC and had significant influence on the running of the Centre to the detriment of the claimants”.
It awarded sums of money to both claimants.
Despite the findings of the Tribunal, Kildare County Council has refused to comment on the matter, referring the issue to the Riverbank Arts Centre.
This is a change from the previous practice where the council used to speak on behalf of the centre.
Meanwhile the board of Riverbank Arts Centre is scheduled to meet mid next week and will be in a position to provide a comment after the meeting. Mr Winters was awarded €40,000 and Ms Bagnall was awarded €35,000.