An Irish High Court justice ruled today, February 24, that Irish dance organization CLRG's disciplinary process should be allowed to proceed, but also granted an injunction to halt the suspension of teacher and adjudicator Amanda Hennigan.
An Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha (CLRG) said in a statement on Friday, February 24 that it "welcomes" the Irish High Court's judgment that found the Irish dance organization's disciplinary process should be allowed to proceed.
CLRG, the oldest and largest competitive Irish dance organization in the world, said the judgment enables the organization "to move forward and schedule disciplinary hearings for those cases identified by the independent investigation team examining allegations of wrongdoing at competitions to proceed to full disciplinary hearing.”
Previously, Justice Michael Peart had recommended that 44 cases be moved to full disciplinary hearings after shocking allegations about so-called feis-fixing had come to light.
CLRG said on Friday: “Addressing the allegations of wrongdoing that emerged last year has been a major focus for CLRG and will be a significant component in our overall transformation to a more modern, professional, and progressive organisation.
“Given the tightknit and networked nature of the Irish dancing community and the nature of the allegations, it has been agreed selecting a disciplinary panel of external experts will best deliver a robust and fair process.
“A number of experienced individuals from HR, legal, business, and management backgrounds have been recruited in consultation with our legal advisors as members of the External Disciplinary Panel to adjudicate the cases.
“CLRG has developed an updated set of disciplinary procedures and practices that allow the External Disciplinary Panel to hear CLRG disciplinary cases, address the differing degrees of misconduct, account for the international spread of cases to be heard, and permit legal representation.
“CLRG is reviewing the ruling in detail with its legal team.”
While the Irish High Court ruled that CLRG's disciplinary process should proceed, it did also grant an injunction to halt the suspension of Irish dance adjudicator and teacher Amanda Hennigan.
Hennigan, who said she is amongst the teachers and adjudicators who CLRG suspended as the organization conducts its investigation, launched High Court action in December, claiming that the investigation into the allegations against her is flawed and should be halted.
While CLRG has previously confirmed that Irish dance teachers and adjudicators had been suspended amidst the disciplinary proceedings, it did not make public who or how many were suspended.
CLRG had said it is "restricted from commenting on the names of those involved and the nature of any allegations" and that those involved have "a right to clear their name and to offer a defence against these allegations."
The court heard the complaint against Hennigan arose out of an exchange of texts between her and another adjudicator saying he would "appreciate anything you can do" for a named student in a competition she was judging.
Hennigan denies that claim and said the text exchange was just part of normal "submissions" which did not affect how competitors were marked.
In her court proceedings, Hennigan sought various orders, including one halting the disciplinary proceedings against her, as well as an injunction lifting her suspension from adjudicating until her High Court action has been determined.
Hennigan claimed CLRG’s decision to investigate and suspend her is flawed for several reasons, including its decision to investigate the complaints without interviewing her and without providing her with any of the details about the specific allegations against her.
In early October, CLRG confirmed it had launched an investigation after a file containing screenshots of messages amongst Irish dance adjudicators and teachers seeking favors for upcoming competitions circulated online.
As well as the screenshots of the messages, screenshots of the complaints e-mailed to CLRG were also included. It remains unclear who began to circulate the file online, or why.
Hennigan claimed that CLRG had been aware of the identities of the persons against whom complaints had been made and despite this, it failed to contact her about the complaints for some months.
This, Hennigan says, was in breach of CLRG’s own disciplinary procedures and breaches her right to fair procedures and natural justice.
Soon after CLRG confirmed it had launched an investigation, it issued a statement outlining the steps it had taken since receiving the complaints in July.
Hennigan claims that the allegations have resulted in a “presumption of guilt” over her, which has damaged her health, relationships, and her Irish dance school.
On Friday, Justice Eileen Roberts said Hennigan had established a strong case that she was not afforded natural justice in relation to her suspension.
There was no certainty in the text exchange involving Hennigan that, on its face, it meets the threshold for gross misconduct and the wording of the exchange was equivocal, Justice Roberts said.
"It does not expressly seek or offer any favorable treatment, and the evidence is that none was received," Justice Roberts said.
"The complaint against the plaintiff (Ms Hennigan) was considered not as a standalone complaint but rather, in the eye of a media storm, in tandem with multiple other complaints of a different and more explicit character," she said.
While Justice Roberts granted an injunction to halt Hennigan's suspension, the justice said the application to stop the disciplinary process was premature at this point, and refused it.
Justice Roberts directed that the disciplinary hearing should progress as soon as possible.