04 Oct 2022

Meeting told councillors and family members reduced to tears over harassment

Donegal County Council passes motion calling for a review of harassment and bullying taking place in the council

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Donegal County Council has been called on ‘to send out a very strong message’ on bullying and harassment

Councillors and their family members have been reduced to tears because of harassment and bullying taking place in Donegal County Council, a councillor has claimed.

The comments were made during a motion calling for the council to set up a review “of the harassment, intimidation and bullying taking place in the workplace of Donegal County Council”.

Fianna Fáil councillor Ciaran Brogan proposed the motion at the most recent meeting of the council which had been adjourned twice due to heated exchanges. He called for “proper supports” from human resources to be put in place to support the victims and possibly invite the HSE to provide support and information.

The motion follows a series of disrupted council meetings which resulted in Cllr Frank McBrearty’s suspension from the council for a month under standing orders dealing with disruptive behaviour. 

Last month, the chief executive of Donegal County Council John McLaughlin told council staff in a memo they will be fully supported in withdrawing cooperation and not providing a service to anyone behaving in a threatening manner.

Without referring to any councillors by name, Cllr Brogan said bullying is a “very serious offence”, adding that  the council has seen “a lot” of bullying “over the last while”

The council needs to send out a very strong message on the issue as a corporate organisation, he said.

“I didn't think anyone in life deserves to be imitated, bullied or harassed. Respect is something that everyone must be shown.”

He said recent incidents at council meetings had “seen people hurt very badly” and had left people crying.

A daughter of “a council colleague” had been reduced to tears “because of the harassment and bullying her father was receiving”, he said.

Cllr Brogan said the council had seen elected members brought to tears because of what was happening in council meetings.

People should have respect for everyone of every political persuasion, he said.

”We need to be very open and very honest about exactly what is happening and what steps we need to address this going forward.”

The motion was met with a round of applause from other councillors.

Independent councillor Nicholas Crossan said it was a very timely motion. While the council has been held in high esteem because of the way it conducts its business, unfortunately, “we are now still top in the country but for a different reason”.

Cathaoirleach of the council Cllr Jack Murray said he wanted to see robust debate but not personal and cruel comments.

Some of the behaviour he has seen at council meetings “is not acceptable in any way”. “We need to lead out with this. People should not be feeling sick coming into meetings”.

The council said it has a dignity at work policy and procedure that outlines in practical terms what is meant by harassment and bullying in the workplace, and what steps to follow if it does occur. 

Acting director of corporate services Patsy Lafferty said the council has the option to move to formal investigations following complaints of bullying or harassment.

He said complaints involving an elected member could result in an investigation being brought to the Standards In Public Office Commission.

The council also has a counselling service available to staff, councillors and family members, he added.

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