Belfast Telegraph

NI Arts Council chief gets £12k age discrimination payout

Settlement: Roisin McDonough
Settlement: Roisin McDonough
Adrian Rutherford

By Adrian Rutherford

The chief executive of a leading Northern Ireland arts body has received a £12,000 payout from the organisation after settling an age discrimination case.

Roisin McDonough (67) took the case against the Arts Council after claiming her request for flexible retirement was not acted on. The case has been settled without admission of liability.

The Arts Council is the development and funding agency for the arts in Northern Ireland.

It distributes money and National Lottery funds to develop and deliver a variety of arts projects, events and initiatives.

Ms McDonough has been chief executive since October 2000.

In January 2017 she applied to the chairperson of the Arts Council for flexible retirement.

She wanted to reduce her working hours from five days to four days per week from April 2017, having previously indicated that this might be for a limited time as she was considering retirement. She claimed no decision was taken on her request and that she was asked instead, on a number of occasions, about her plans to fully retire and if she had decided on a final retirement date.

She became aware of speculation within the workplace about when she would retire and who might apply for the post.

Ms McDonough considered this inappropriate and undermining to her position as chief executive. She started an internal grievance procedure and lodged proceedings claiming discrimination under the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations (NI) 2006. She was supported by the Equality Commission.

An internal panel upheld her grievance complaint and recommended that her flexible retirement request be processed immediately.

She commenced flexible retirement in September 2017.

Ms McDonough said: "It's important if people feel their rights at work are not being upheld that they know they can seek independent support and they will be listened to.

"Public sector workers, at whatever level they are employed in an organisation, are entitled to the same rights as anyone else."

Ms McDonough said she believed her flexible retirement request was in line with the organisation's human resources policies.

She added: "I was disappointed that my request was not being progressed and felt under pressure to provide a definite date for retirement.

"I believed that this was inappropriate and that any decision on my retirement should be mine and mine alone."

Anne McKernan, head of legal services at the Equality Commission, said: "In settling the case, the Arts Council has acknowledged and regrets the hurt and injury to feelings experienced by Roisin McDonough.

"It has reaffirmed its commitment to the principle of equality of opportunity in employment and will liaise with the Commission and review its policies and procedures concerning age.

"It will ensure that these policies and procedures relating to age are communicated to all staff and to board members and that appropriate training is provided."

An Arts Council spokesperson said: "The Arts Council of Northern Ireland agreed a settlement with Roisin McDonough and regrets wholeheartedly the hurt caused to a valued member of our staff. The Arts Council has agreed to review its equal opportunity policies with regard to age and refresh its equality training for all board and staff members."

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