Pastor in West Cork ordered sexters unjustifiably dismissed to be reinstated – archyde

A West Cork pastor wrongly fired a longtime sacristan after the Covid-19 pandemic tore a hole in local church finances.

This is, according to Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) Judge Patsy Doyle, who confirmed Michael Keohane’s claim that he was wrongly dismissed by Fr. John McCarthy in June 2020.

Now Ms. Doyle has ordered that Father McCarthy reinstate Mr. Keohane in his previous role as pastor in the Rosscarbery Ward in Cork, despite Father McCarthy’s “protests” against the reinstatement.

Ms. Doyle said “the justice of the case dictates a reintegration order”.

At the hearing, Mr. Keohane expressed his desire to be reinstated and expressed his belief that the parties “could work around their differences for the good of the Church”.

Mr. Keohane – who served as a sacristan for the community for 26 years – told the WRC hearing that he was “shocked and very angry” when he spoke on April 26th.

Ms. Doyle has dated the reinstatement of Mr. Keohane to July 7, 2021 and ordered that Mr. Keohane repay the severance payment of € 9,568 upon reinstatement.

In her findings, Ms. Doyle noted that Mr. Keohane “was wrongly selected for dismissal while attempting to address the Church’s income decline”.

Ms. Doyle added that excluding Mr. Keohane from the decision-making process made this an unfair selection for layoffs.

Ms. Doyle also noted that “the ongoing tension in the employment relationship was a factor” in Fr. McCarthy’s selection for dismissal, “but that was not the only consideration”.

Ms. Doyle said the Church financial documents made available to the WRC “reflect a sharp drop in local income, but do not reflect the diocese’s accounts or address the 2019 surplus”.

She said she could not accept these documents, reflecting fairness in the selection of Mr. Keohane for release.

Ms. Doyle stated that Mr. Keohane was “clearly excluded from participating in his own discharge”.

It noted that Mr. Keohane made “very convincing arguments for his retention in employment after his dismissal”.

Ms. Doyle said the arguments were raised in letters to Ms. McCarthy and his superiors as appeals.

She added, “He was not heard on those levels and he deserved a lot more respect.”

Ms. Doyle accepted a climate of uncertainty and indeed an emergency existed in Ireland as of March 2020 due to the advancing pandemic.

She said Father McCarthy “acted as a necessary and proportionate measure of his vision of an employer and fired his only employee.”

“In doing so, however, I found that he circumvented the need for an objective selection process with a sensible approach.”

Ms. Doyle said she was “most concerned about the lack of visible efforts” to save Mr. Keohane’s employment during a national pandemic in view of a clear public policy to save jobs.

Ms. Doyle noted that Ms. McCarthy did not adequately consider the impact of a firing on Mr. Keohane and that Mr. Keohane “was not heard on this crucial factor.”

Ms. Doyle said she had found evidence of “repeated minor disagreements and residual silence not conducive to an effective working relationship” from both Father McCarthy and Mr. Keohane.

At the WRC hearing, it was said that Mr. Keohane paid € 120 a week to live with a disability pension and loved his sacristan work and often went to church outside of his contract terms.

Mr Keohane’s attorney, Terence O’Sullivan, argued at the hearing that Mr Keohane was not the subject of a real dismissal, but that Father McCarthy took advantage of an opportunity given the economic backdrop of the national pandemic and the poor human relations between the two parties and requested dismissal through a sham dismissal ”.

As evidence, Mr. Keohane said he felt unwelcome by Father McCarthy.

When asked by Father McCarthy’s attorney, Beibhinn Murphy, whether it would be credible to him to claim that Father McCarthy waited 12 years in the grass to quit his job, Mr. Keohane replied, “I was not his favorite person . ”

Fr. McCarthy said at the hearing that church income has fallen 60 percent and that firing is “an honest and responsible way of cutting costs in the ward.”

He confirmed that the release decision was his sole and was made for financial reasons. He denied personal hostility towards Mr. Keohane and that interpersonal conflicts explained the circumstances of the dismissal, and affirmed that Mr. Keohane was impeccable at his job.

Father McCarthy said he did not give Mr. Keohane an opportunity to appeal his decision because he did not want to give him “false hopes”. He said he couldn’t welcome Mr. Keohane’s return.

Ms. Murphy said the ongoing pandemic “resulted in a significant decrease in community income,” as church collections provided the lion’s share of revenue and took it off.

All masses in the parish ceased on March 13, 2020, and Mr Keohane was paid as usual until May 18, 2020, after which he was temporarily dismissed and asked to apply for the pandemic unemployment payment.

Ms. Murphy argued that Ms. McCarthy “had no course of action other than dismissal.”

Keohane’s lawyer Terence O’Sullivan was asked to comment on the outcome of the case and said Friday that he would not comment “due to the sensitivity of the situation and the people involved”.

On Friday, Father McCarthy said he would not comment on the outcome of the WRC case “as we are awaiting legal advice on whether or not to appeal the decision”. [to the Labour Court]”.


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