Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Louth councillors to meet in private over Brother Garvey challenge

Irish Heraldry: Drogheda Town Walls

Drogheda councillors are to meet in private on Monday afternoon to discuss the legal action that was commenced and subsequently withdrawn on behalf of Brother Edmund Garvey, the former head of the Christian Brothers, who was ‘no longer recognised as a Freeman of the town” after a vote last September.

Brother Garvey, a native of Drogheda, was granted the Freedom of Drogheda in 1997 in recognition of his work, but a number of councillors voted to remove the honour, as he presided during a time when a legal strategy used by the congregation to defend damages cases was adopted.

Five councillors voted to rescind the honour. Four voted against. One councillor was absent. In favour were Michelle Hall (Lab) and Emma Cutlip (Lab), Paddy McQuillian (Ind), Joanna Byrne (SF), Tom Cunningham (SF).

Against were Mayor Eileen Tully (FG) James Byrne (FF), Kevin Callan (Ind) and Declan Power (Ind) and absent was Pio Smith (Lab).

On Monday, proceedings were initiated in the High Court by Br Garvey against Louth County Council and the Borough District of Drogheda aimed at challenging that decision.

However, in a statement to the Irish Independent the following day, Br Garvey indicated he would not be proceeding with the case.

“Review proceedings were contemplated in respect of certain process and governance matters relating to a Drogheda Borough Council decision, and preliminary paperwork had been filed in light of time-bound considerations,” said Brother Garvey.

“A decision had now been taken not to proceed with the case and this is being communicated to the court”.

Drogheda Cllr Kevin Callan, who is also a barrister, said he argued from the start that the removal of the freedom was not something the members had the power to do.

“I made it clear to members at the time the risks involved if they were to do this, that there was a breach of fair procedure and natural justice, and I hold that view to this day,” he told the Drogheda Independent. “The freedom should not have been removed and I indicated this is something that could at anytime be raised as a legal challenge”.

Ahead of the meeting in September, Louth County Council Chief Executive Joan Martin told the Councillors she had serious doubts as to whether or not it was within their powers to rescind the honour granted to Mr. Garvey in February 1997.

She had previously warned Councillors that the matter of revoking Council decisions is provided for by the Council’s standing order number 18 but there is no legal provision for the removal of a civic award as this was the first time such a situation had arisen.

When asked if councillors should be nervous of being pursued individually, Cllr Callan said Bro Garvey’s legal team may be looking at councillors comments during the discussion, but he couldn’t speculate on their intentions.

“I firmly believe that if any legal action is taken against a local council due to the actions of members in supporting this, that not one cent of taxpayers money should be spent in defending councillors in that situation, on the basis that every single councillors was notified and warned of the risk by the Chief Executive, and I also made it clear that I was extremely concerned about it,” said Cllr Callan . “Somebody's reputation was damaged, when they were never found to have done anything wrong in a court in Ireland”.

Cllr Emma Cutlip, who agreed with rescinding the freedom, said she is confused by why the action was lodged in the first place.

"I have a legal education background, and I'm not sure what the point of the law suit was, but maybe we will learn more at Monday’s council meeting,” she said.

In recent times, abuse survivors have expressed concerns over the legal strategy used by the congregation to defend damages cases.

The strategy involved refusing to provide a nominee to act on behalf of the Christian Brothers in cases where survivors were suing for damages.

As a result, survivors were forced to sue all brothers from the time of the abuse who were still alive, even though most if not all had no involvement.

To do this they were forced to first seek court orders directing the Christian Brothers to provide the names and contact details of each brother and second to serve legal papers on each of them.

The strategy was strongly criticised as obstructive and an apparent means of dissuading survivors from seeking compensation but it is completely legal.

Br Garvey retired from his role as provincial leader last year, but the strategy continued to be used afterwards.