Mullally & ors -v- The Labour Court & anor, [2015] IEHC 351 (2015)

Docket Number:2014 314 JR
Party Name:Mullally & ors, The Labour Court & anor






JUDGMENT of Mr. Justice Noonan delivered the 9th day of June, 2015.


  1. In these proceedings, the applicants seek the following reliefs:

  2. An order of certiorari of the decision of the respondent dated the 14th of March, 2014.

  3. A declaration by way of judicial review that the respondent failed to comply with the provisions of s. 20(1) of the Industrial Relations Act 1969 and s. 68 of the Industrial Relations Act 1946, by failing to properly or at all investigate the trade dispute and/or comply with its obligations thereunder.

  4. An order remitting the complaint made by the applicants to be determined by a different division of the respondent.

  5. A declaration that the manner in which the respondent purported to investigate the applicants’ complaints and conducted the oral hearing failed to comply with constitutional rights to fair procedures and/or under the European Convention on Human Rights, and in particular Articles 6 and 11 thereof (and as a consequence if necessary a declaration that the respondent failed to comply with its obligations under the ECHR Act, 2003.)

  6. A declaration by way of judicial review that the respondent’s decision of the 14th of March, 2014 was ultra vires, invalid and/or void.


  7. The first four applicants are retained fire fighters employed by the notice party (“the Council”). The Council has some 530 employees of which 76 are retained fire fighters. Of that 76, 61, or 80%, are members of the fourth applicant (“the PNA”) and of its branch, the Irish Fire and Emergency Service Association (“IFESA”). The Council currently recognises five different unions representing its employees for negotiation purposes but does not recognise the PNA or IFESA. The PNA is a registered trade union with a negotiation licence, but is not a member of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

  8. On the 22nd of May, 2013, the general secretary of the PNA wrote to the county manager of the Council requesting recognition of IFESA for negotiation purposes. The Council responded by letter of the 11th of June, 2013 stating that as IFESA is not recognised nationally for negotiation purposes, the Council could not give recognition.

  9. On the 27th of September, 2013, the applicants formally requested the respondent (“the Labour Court”) to investigate the trade dispute pursuant to its powers under s. 20(1) of the Industrial Relations Act 1969.

    Relevant Legislation

  10. Section 20 (1) of the Industrial Relations Act 1969 provides as follows:

    “20.—(1) Where the workers concerned in a trade dispute or their trade union or trade unions request or requests [the Labour Court] to investigate the dispute and undertake or undertakes before the investigation to accept the recommendation of the Court under section 68 of the [Industrial Relations Act 1946] in relation thereto then, notwithstanding anything contained in the Principal Act or in this Act, the Court shall investigate the dispute and shall make a recommendation under the said section 68 in relation thereto.”

  11. Section 68 (1) of the Industrial Relations Act 1946, as substituted by s. 19 of the Industrial Relations Act 1969, provides as follows:

    “68.—(1) The Court, having investigated a trade dispute, may make a recommendation setting forth its opinion on the merits of the dispute and the terms on which it should be settled.”

    The Hearing Before the Labour Court

  12. The hearing took place on the 4th of March, 2014. The applicants were represented by solicitors and senior counsel. The Council was represented by Mr. Don Culliton, acting Assistant Chief Executive of the Local Government Management Agency. Both sides made oral and written submissions.

  13. In its written submission, the Council referred to the judgment of the High Court in Abbot and Whelan v. ITGWU (Unreported, High Court, 2nd December, 1980) to the effect that there is no constitutional right to be represented by a union in the conduct of negotiations with an employer who has no duty to negotiate with any particular citizen or body of citizens. In the grounding affidavit of John Hughes, board member and treasurer of the PNA, Mr. Hughes avers that he attended at the hearing and the Labour Court’s Chairman indicated at the outset that this case was irrelevant to the issues before the respondent. He further avers that the Council in its oral submissions suggested that recognition should not be recommended because the other five unions already recognised by the Council would take industrial action if the PNA was recognised.

  14. In his replying affidavit, Mr. Culliton avers that he has attended well in excess of 150 Labour Court cases and the hearing in this matter was not unusual and was fairly conducted. He disputes the suggestion by Mr. Hughes that the Court’s Chairman said the submissions of the applicants in relation to the Abbot case were irrelevant. He says that the Abbot case was discussed before the respondent and therefore was relevant. He avers that the Court did indicate its familiarity with the case law but disputes the suggestion that the parties were told that they should not open case law.

  15. Mr. Culliton says that he submitted to the Court that if recognition was awarded, it would likely result in an unstable industrial relations environment due to the competing nature and number of unions who would have recognition rights. He avers that it is correct to say that a major part of...

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