The above report appeared in the Connacht Tribune last Thursday, but is it right? Are we really near the end of the campaign, and can we soon celebrate the four women finally being given what they deserve by NUI Galway? Or is this simply university management feeding the press a line? The campaign knows management told another reporter, more than a month ago, that the cases were settled and it was just a matter of weeks before the agreement would be announced. We suspect this is also what the Athena SWAN were told so that the university could get the bronze award last month. That information was given to the previous journalist ‘off the record’; now, it seems Dara Bradley from the Tribune is allowed to report it. But we in the campaign are still sceptical.
We are confident the four women did meet with the new President, Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, without lawyers, back in February, soon after he came into office and that, following the meeting, they were happy. Several reliable sources have told us that. But if a deal was done in February, then why still no announcement at the end of June? The recent revelation about the University of Limerick points to the need for caution. Last year, their management put out a story that a settlement had been agreed between the two whistleblowers and their new President. That was celebrated in the press, but now the Limerick Leader reports that there’s still no agreed settlement.
We are not going to give up until the four women actually get what they deserve. The campaign is in suspension mode in the hope there will be a resolution, but promises and spinning stories to the press are not going to make us go away.
We guess the holdup is probably financial — thus the reference in Dara Bradley’s story to the Dept of Finance. But we can’t believe the delay is caused by the sum of money the women have been offered, as their demands have always been so moderate. They have always told management they simply wanted their rightful promotion, and the promotion back dated to 2009. They have not sought compensation, and it is likely, knowing how reasonable they have been, that they compromised with the new President. The back pay Micheline received was just €23,000. She was working half time for much of the 6 years and it has now been ten years since they should all have been promoted. But even if they have been offered all of that, which we think unlikely, the amount of money is not enough to cause the government to baulk at agreeing to it. So what might be the cause for the delay?
It is notable that no lawyers were present when the new President met the four women. Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh‘s predecessor, Jim Browne, relied heavily on lawyers. Jim’s policy was well known in NUI Galway: fight everything in an attempt to bully staff into submission. We’ve heard that Jim Browne even reckoned Micheline only won her case because NUI Galway didn’t pay for a good lawyer. Instead, John Brennan of the Irish Business and Employers Federation, IBEC, defended NUI Galway at the Equality Tribunal. For the four women’s cases, NUI Galway employed Ronan Daly Jermyn Solicitors and Senior Council Cliona Kimber, neither of whom is cheap. Thanks to Jim Browne’s intransigence, the case has now been going on for four years, time enough to build up a huge legal bill. We suspect it is this bill that the government is baulking at paying.
It is sad that we have campaigned for four years only to get to this point: the four women being forced to wait more than five months for their rightful settlement because of the greed of lawyers — particularly as it wasn’t the lawyers who forced NUI Galway into a corner and lead to management being determined to avoid any further court hearings (we have been told that on good authority). It was this campaign, all your support for the four women, and specifically the massive turnout that management could see was about to happen at our demonstration outside the High Court planned for the first hearing last year — a hearing which was then cancelled at the last minute. All institutions hate bad publicity and, boy, have we given NUI Galway bad publicity!
It is not the four women’s fault if there is now a huge legal bill. They delayed the start of their legal case for over a year in an attempt to settle, but Jim Browne insisted they had to prove the discrimination in court. He said he couldn’t promote them, despite Micheline having proved gender discrimination for the same promotion round, where 16 men were promoted but only one woman. He said there was nothing he could do to settle their grievance, that they had to prove gender discrimination in court. The new President’s actions have proved that to be the lie it always was. Thus the fault for the legal bill, whatever it is, is squarely with NUI Galway. So why can’t NUI Galway pay the legal bill, for both sides, and NOT the taxpayer? The University has more than enough funds in its Foundation which, according to the Irish Times, has assets of more than €57 million! We are certain the government would have no problem just paying for the agreement with the women — an agreement that was possible four years ago, if it hadn’t been for Jim Browne’s intransigence.