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Unite boss Graham ‘not amenable’ to Irish law, tribunal hears Ogle discrimination case – SKWAWKBOX

An ‘extraordinary stand’ taken by the general secretary in an attempt to avoid testimony and cross-examination could lead to prosecution

The general secretary of the Unite union, Sharon Graham, has taken the “extraordinary position” that she is not “receptive” to Irish law, lawyers for senior unionist Brendan Ogle have told a Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) tribunal. Unite’s lawyers had first used the term during the February hearing of Ogle’s discrimination case against Unite, when Ogle’s lawyer Mary Paula Guinness BL raised the subject of WRC judge, former UN prosecutor Elizabeth Spelman, issuing a summons to force Graham to appear to give sworn evidence. Graham’s lawyers subsequently confirmed her refusal to appear voluntarily.

Last Friday the employment tribunal held a hearing, in Ogle’s Employment Equality Act 1998 complaint against Unite, on Ogle’s request to compel Graham, who is usually based in London, to appear in Dublin for questioning under oath.

Ogle claims Unite discriminated against him by sidelining him on his return from treatment for life-threatening cancer – and that he was told the problem was Graham ‘recognising loyalty’ of those who supported her in Unite’s election as general secretary of 2021. Ogle, like many Irish figures and branches, supported Graham’s rival, Howard Beckett.

Graham’s lawyers argued that Graham does not have to appear because Unite will send a subordinate, Ogle’s former colleague, Tom Fitzgerald, to refute Ogle’s claim.

Sharon Graham has canceled previous Republic appearances to avoid anger and criticism from members over the union’s ‘disgraceful’ treatment of Brendan Ogle. The situation caused such outrage in Ireland that trade unionists protested Graham’s long-delayed visit to Dublin, Unite’s Community department condemned it as ‘disgusting’ and an entire sector threatened to pull out.

The tribunal had given Graham until April 12 to respond to Ogle’s lawyers’ request to attend the next set of hearings at the end of this month, after which Spelman would hear legal arguments and the request for a formal subpoena. Graham didn’t respond. If a summons is ultimately requested and issued, refusal to comply is a criminal offense punishable under Ireland’s Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2018.

Guinness, who represents Ogle, told the tribunal it is clear Graham has “relevant information” in the case:

This is a general secretary who is general secretary of Unite in Ireland; Based on the defendant’s claim, it appears that she has instructed her representatives that she is not amenable to Irish law.

She described the refusal as an “extraordinary” position, citing Graham’s recent attendance at policy conferences in Dublin and Unite’s status as an active trade union in Ireland. and Ogle’s separate High Court defamation proceedings against Graham, her right-hand man Tony Woodhouse and the union, in which Graham will appear, adding that:

She is general secretary of the entire union, including the union in Ireland. They have a head office here, her authority is exercised – it would be an unusual situation for her to say she is not admissible to Irish law…

(Unite’s rulebook giving the general secretary exclusive power to change the responsibilities of union officials) is all linked to the fact that they say in their submission that this change came about after (Graham’s) election as general secretary.

Unite is Britain’s second largest trade union and the only British trade union also active in the Republic of Ireland, with thousands of members across a range of sectors. The lawyers argue that the WRC has no authority to force Graham to attend.

However, if a summons is issued and Graham refuses to comply, she could potentially be arrested if she returns to Ireland, and possibly face a prison sentence and a large fine under the Employment Act.

Judge Spelman said she would communicate her decision on the summons in writing to both parties before the next set of hearings begins on May 27.

In other news, Brendan Ogle announced this week that he will stand as an independent candidate for Dublin in Ireland’s European Parliament elections in June.

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