‘Do not raise sexual harassment claims at AGM’ Old Conna golf club critics warned
The club insists it has been guided by legal advice and that none of its finances are at risk
The golf club has faced huge unrest among members over its handling of the claims against general manager Ronan Smyth.
December 11 2022 02:30 AM
Members of the Old Conna Golf Club in south Dublin angry at the club’s handling of two sexual harassment claims by former employees were warned not to raise the “embarrassing” issue at its annual general meeting last week because of legal advice.
The golf club was ordered to pay one worker €25,000 after she won a Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) case and has paid €75,000 to settle another claim. It has faced unrest from members over its handling of the cases taken over the conduct of Ronan Smyth, its general manager.
The club insists it has been guided by legal advice and that none of its finances are at risk. Mr Smyth denies any wrongdoing and has remained working at the club.
In a notice sent to members before its AGM last Wednesday, Bill Farrell, the club’s president, said the club’s council had decided there was “one matter which cannot be commented upon at these meetings”.
“Most members will be aware that successive councils have been dealing with two HR issues over the past three years,” he said.
“The processes involved have had to remain confidential to protect the interests of all of the parties. The matter came to public notice in August when a newspaper published an article about the matter.
“As advised in the council’s statements at that time, this matter is being dealt with by the club’s insurers and their nominated solicitors.”
Mr Farrell referred to an October story in the Sunday Independent that revealed the club had agreed a €75,000 settlement with one woman, Alison Rigney, to end WRC and High Court cases taken against the club and Mr Smyth.
Ms Rigney was a key witness for Emily Farrell, a fellow administrator, in her successful WRC case. That decision is under appeal to the Labour Court. Ms Farrell is also pursuing a High Court claim against the club’s officers and trustees and obtained a discovery order in October.
Mr Farrell’s notice said Old Conna’s insurers said the agreement made in October was done so “without any admission or finding of wrongdoing by the club or its employees and this was accepted by both parties to the settlement agreement”.
“It remains deeply regrettable that there has been continuous media coverage of these cases which is both troubling and embarrassing for many members and staff of this club.
“The club will not be commenting in respect of either the matter that has settled or the ongoing case as our insurers insist that we must respect fair procedures and due process. Therefore, the current status quo must be respected and accepted by all of us at the club,” he said.
“To make absolutely sure that we have been acting correctly, council also sought and received additional independent legal advice in preparation for the forthcoming AGM.
“The advice was crystal clear: there can be no discussion of any of these HR matters at general meetings of the club until legal processes have been completed for all of the parties.”
A source at the meeting said some members did try to raise the issue but were told the meeting would be cancelled if they persisted.
The evidence from Ms Farrell’s WRC case was that Mr Smyth subjected the two women to a barrage of inappropriate comments.
The WRC found Ms Farrell suffered sexual harassment that was “totally unacceptable in the modern workplace”. The evidence included Mr Smyth allegedly describing himself as “horny” and “well-endowed” and remarking “isn’t it great to have [her] on her knees?” when Ms Farrell used office equipment.
Ms Farrell went out on sick-leave due to stress.
Some club members have tried get three-time major champion Pádraig Harrington, who is an honorary member and whose sons play at the club, to intervene. The WRC found the club’s internal investigation and a subsequent appeal process had “serious defects”.