Trade unionist Brendan Ogle claims conference speech about lies ‘defamed’ him

Ogle has taken an action against Unite alleging discrimination following return after cancer treatment

A trade unionist has alleged that the former chairman of Unite defamed him in a speech to a delegate conference in Ireland 18 months ago by claiming “lies were being told” about the union on social media.

The speech came after Brendan Ogle’s wife, Mandy La Combre, herself a former Unite branch chair, wrote a Facebook post which set out her views on how her husband had been treated on his return to work from treatment for a “very aggressive” form of cancer.

The remarks were picked up in the Irish and British press, the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) was told on Wednesday.

Mr Ogle was continuing his evidence-in-chief on Wednesday, the second day of a WRC hearing into his claim he was discriminated against in breach of the Employment Equality Act 1998 by the UK-headquartered trade union, which has over a million members in Ireland and the UK.


He said he was still “trying to figure out” what his role in the organisation was going to be at the time of a conference for the union’s Irish section in Malahide, Dublin, in September 2022. Unite’s former chairman, Tony Woodhouse, appeared instead of general secretary Sharon Graham at the event.

Mr Ogle said he ran into Mr Woodhouse, who he had been “trying to contact” about his situation at work, at the event. During his speech to the conference, Mr Woodhouse referred to “the lies that were being told” about Unite on social media.

“[He] didn’t refer to me by name but referred to ‘officers returning from sick leave are always treated in the most perfect manner’,” Mr Ogle said.

“He didn’t name the case, didn’t name me specifically, he made a number of other comments; and said he had ‘seen a file; there was accommodation being provided, and he wasn’t going to preside over the union being castigated or criticised in the way it had been’.

“I was sitting still, listening, trying not to portray any emotion. I was shocked, annoyed, upset ... this was my colleague, my friend, who without any conversation with me at all, made these comments in a very public forum.”

He said that when he went to a November 2022 job interview in London he objected to Mr Woodhouse chairing the panel. He said he wrote to the union’s executive last March stating that the chairman had “targeted – and following advice I can state defamed me – at the biennial conference”. Mr Ogle subsequently issued defamation proceedings against Mr Woodhouse.

Mark Harty SC, appearing for Unite with Barra Faughnan, instructed by Dentons Solicitors, opened his crossexamination of Mr Ogle on Wednesday. He put it to the complainant that his “differences” with Mr Woodhouse followed an article in the Irish Examiner quoting the Facebook post by Ms La Combre.

“Were you contacted by the media in relation to the Facebook post?” Mr Harty asked.

“Me? No,” Mr Ogle said.

“Was your wife?” counsel asked.

“I don’t know – you can call her as a witness if you like,” Mr Ogle replied.

“I woke up one weekday morning, she said to me: ‘I put a post up on Facebook about the situation.’ She didn’t ask me beforehand, we didn’t discuss it. When I woke up, it was up,” he added.

“Of course I looked at it, read it, I would characterise it as a genuine expression by her, as my wife, about how she was feeling about my situation. I would also say that it was, whatever about her feelings, based on my experience, it wasn’t unfactual in terms of what was happening.”

“Did you ask her to take it down?” Mr Harty asked.

“No, it was her Facebook post,” Mr Ogle said.

“Did it occur to you that it might be a bad idea to have that up there?” Mr Harty said.

“It occurred to me it had the potential to change certain things. I will offer you this: I didn’t know about it and I didn’t know what would come from it, but I’ve a lot of respect for my wife. I saw in her post the love and care she has had for me in nursing me through my cancer, and that overshadowed everything else,” Mr Ogle said.

“What about when you saw it in the newspaper?” Mr Harty asked.

“I didn’t have a lot of time to consider it,” Mr Ogle said, adding that the next development was a phone call from his line manager, the union’s then regional officer for Ireland, Jackie Pollock, seeking a meeting.

“It’s certainly what led to Tony’s address to the conference,” he added.

Asked whether he thought relationships with people in the trade union “might be damaged” by the subsequent newspaper coverage, Mr Ogle said he did.

He said it was a “mystery” to him that the union had not contacted his wife directly via union channels at a time when she was chairing one of its branches.

“They instead used it to implicate me in some way,” he said.

The case continues on Thursday.

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