Irish Rail whistleblower on €121k mostly spends days reading newspapers and going for walks after duties ‘hacked down to nothing’, WRC hears•
30th November 2022
A finance manager at Irish Rail says his duties were “hacked down to nothing” after he made a protected disclosure nine years ago – and that he now spends most of his working week in a €121,000-a-year job reading newspapers, eating sandwiches and going for long walks.
“I’d say if I got something that requires me to do work once in a week I’d be thrilled,” Dermot Alastair Mills told the Workplace Relations Commission at a hearing yesterday.
He was giving evidence in a hearing into his complaint under the Protected Disclosures Act 2014, in which he alleges he was subjected to penalisation as a whistleblower after raising concerns about certain accounting matters at Irish Rail in 2014.
Irish Rail accepts Mr Mills made a protected disclosure but denies penalisation – arguing that the WRC only has jurisdiction to rule on the extent of any alleged penalisation as it relates to the complainant’s failure to secure a more senior post during a 2018 recruitment process.
Mr Mills’s representative, industrial relations consultant and former Irish Rail HR chief John Keenan, said his client was “still enduring penalisation” in his continuing employment because of the alleged reduction of his role.
Mr Mills gave evidence that he was given responsibility for capital budgets worth in the region of €250m from the turn of the millennium up to the economic collapse in 2006 and 2007, reported to the Irish Rail board, participated in board sub-committees, and was promoted in 2010.
However, he said after that he had been “bullied” to the extent that he took three months’ sick leave in 2013, only returning to work that year on the foot of an undertaking by the company that he would have the “same status, same seniority [and] same salary”.
Mr Mills he was paid the same salary and was told he would have responsibility as a finance manager accounting for fixed assets worth billions, the company’s debt account, and preparing a report for the government.
He said “in practice” that all he was left to do was to manage a debt portfolio worth €8m when he started which is now down to €40,000.
“There were certain issues with debtors and I saw certain things. I tried to raise red flags all over the place,” Mr Mills said.
He said he had written to the Irish Rail chief executive to make a “good faith” report in March 2014, before making a protected disclosure to the Transport Minister in December that year, after the whistleblower law came into effect.
He said that after making the internal report he was “stopped” from taking responsibility for the fixed assets and that he also lost responsibility for preparing the statutory report to the government.
“I started off with what seemed like a reasonable remit in 2013 and 2014. Slowly but surely it was hacked down to nothing,” he said.
He said he was “isolated” at his job site at the Inchicore railway works in Dublin nearly nine years since first raising a concern.
“I either work from home or go into the office – two days at home, three days in the office,” he told the Workplace Relations Commisison at a hearing yesterday.
“If I go to the office, I go in for 10am. I buy two newspapers, the Times and the Independent, and a sandwich. I go into my cubicle, I turn on my computer, I look at emails. There are no emails associated with work, no messages, no communications, no colleague communications.
“I sit and I read the newspaper and I eat my sandwich. Then about 10.30am, if there’s an email which requires an answer, I answer it. If there’s work associated with it, I do that work.
“I’d say if I got something that requires me to do work once in a week I’d be thrilled,” he said.
He said he takes lunch as early as 11.30am or 12.30pm and spends “an hour or two” walking in the Inchicore area before returning to work around 2.30pm or 3pm.
“If there’s nothing to be done, I go home,” Mr Mills said.
“You’re paid €121,000 for doing nothing?” Mr Keenan asked.
“Yes – when I say to do nothing, I mean to not use my skills,” the complainant said.
Mr Mills said he had been excluded from company meetings and training opportunities since making the protected disclosure and that this held him back when he interviewed for a more senior role in the summer of 2018.
He said he believed two of the three interviewers on the panel were aware that he had made the protected disclosure prior to him telling them so.
Counsel for Irish Rail, Tom Mallon, said it was the Irish Rail’s position that none of the interviewers had been aware of the protected disclosure.
Cross-examining Mr Mills, he said the complainant had written an email in January 2016 about being “excluded from training and meetings” and suggested the company was discriminating against him on the basis of “age and nationality”.
“I had no reason to think why I was being discriminated against. I was not being given any answers – that was one of the ways I thought I might get an answer,” Mr Mills said.
“You had no evidence,” Mr Mallon said.
“You’re absolutely correct I had no evidence and that’s why I never brought a claim under equality legislation,” Mr Mills replied.
Mr Mallon suggested to the complainant that he had been “looking around for some way to explain your position without looking at yourself”.
“If you’re saying I’m looking for an excuse for the bad treatment – I didn’t know why I was being treated so badly by the company,” Mr Mills said.
He added that a later email in August 2016 in which he raised the matter of the protected disclosure was not an “assumption”, as Mr Mallon suggested, but that he had “evidence” for that.
Adjudicating officer Penelope McGrath heard an application for a witness summons by the complainant side and said she would invite the employer side to ask the witness to appear voluntarily before she would consider issuing a summons.
She closed the hearing and adjourned the matter, with the case not expected to have its next hearing before February.