Eir case: Mother unable to call 999 for sick child due to dropped signal

Court hears customer made 13 calls to Eir, sent five emails and tried to make contact eight times on social media but never got anywhere

In the winter of 2022 an Eir customer contacted the telecoms company because her mobile phone kept losing signal and calls were being dropped.

As luck would have it, she knew an engineer based in her area who told her that it was a problem with a phone mast. Armed with this knowledge she set up a community Facebook page to gauge the experience of others in her neighbourhood after which it quickly became apparent she was not the only one experiencing issues.

She contacted the company. And then she contacted the company again. And again. And again.

In fact, over a six-month period this woman, whose story was told at a Dublin District Court hearing on Monday morning, made 13 calls to Eir, sent five emails and tried to make contact eight times on social media platforms but never got anywhere.


She frequently asked for a reference number for her complaint but was told by Eir employees that she didn’t need such a thing and she was repeatedly assured that there was nothing wrong with the mast near her home.

Still she kept losing coverage and the consequences were serious.

On one occasion the signal dropped as she tried to dial 999 on behalf of a sick child so she had to drive her daughter to A&E for urgent medical attention. On another occasion, the court was told, she could not take delivery of a C-Pap breathing machine for her father because the courier company was unable to get through on her phone.

The man ended up in hospital as a result.

It was only when she contacted ComReg that her concerns appeared to be taken seriously. It quickly emerged that there was, in fact, an issue with the mobile phone mast in the woman’s area and the only option she had was to switch provider, which she did.

The story was shared with the court by the communications regulator’s compliance, Michelle O’Donnell, who said ComReg had received complaints from a number of the telecoms company’s customers saying they had been unable to lodge formal complaints with Eir.

Monday’s court hearing, at which Eir pleaded guilty to multiple counts of breaching the rules and was fined €750 for each of 10 such breaches, was not the first time concerns have been expressed over the level of customer care offered by Eir.

In a report published last month by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC), Eir was the company identified as the one most mentioned by consumers calling the CCPC information line in 2023.

In 2022, it finished in last place in the annual customer experience report published by the CX company and finished in the bottom 10 of 150 companies last year.

It has also frequently appeared on the Pricewatch pages of this newspaper with readers highlighting the myriad ways in which dealing with the company had brought them stress.

Just some of the headlines are sufficient to get a sense of their frustration.

“My experience with Eir showed a multitude of incompetence,” ran one such headline. “Eir leaves reader frazzled with letters to dead brother and contract confusion,” went another. “Man billed hundreds by Eir for service he never used and didn’t know he had,” was the headline on a third story while “All I have to show for my seven-month wait for Eir broadband are disgruntled neighbours,” ran a fourth with a fifth person asking “I’m paying twice for my Eir service; when is this circus going to be resolved?”

Speaking after Monday’s hearing, ComReg’s director of retail and consumer services, Barbara Delaney, told The Irish Times that Eir’s failings were “a very serious issue”.

She stressed that “consumers’ rights must be upheld, they must be able to lodge a complaint, get a timely response, and get the complaint dealt with. This case shows that Eir [and Eircom] were frustrating consumers from doing that, not allowing them to make the complaint and fulfil their rights.”

She said it was “really important that Eircom realise how fundamental and how serious this is” and added that the case would signal to Eir and to other service providers “that ComReg doesn’t have tolerance for this kind of issue. It’s a fundamental right for consumers.”

She said issuing staff with warnings of disciplinary procedures if they gave callers phone numbers or redirected them to the complaints website “makes it all the more serious”.

“Obviously, no consumer wants to be left hanging on the line for whatever reason but when it appears in the background, that this is something that is purposely done and purposely achieved, and consumers are not allowed to make a complaint and the staff, as the judge says, are actually themselves stopped from helping consumers, which is presumably their job in the first place; that makes it even more serious.”

She said the “actual convictions reflected the seriousness that wilfully and purposely frustrating consumers is just a terrible thing” and expressed the hope that the story would highlight the rights consumers have.

She said that “part of doing business is to ensure that you can address consumer complaints in a timely manner that has to be part of doing business. It isn’t a luxury or an add on or something that comes after. If you’re in business in Ireland and you want to service your customers, you have to service them when they have a complaint as well.”

On Monday evening Eir angrily rejected the suggestion it had warned its staff that they would face disciplinary proceedings if they followed the rules governing the sector.

In a statement issued to The Irish Times a spokeswoman said that during the court session, “ComReg made serious, unprecedented and incorrect allegations against Eir, accusing us of instructing our customer care team to not comply with regulatory obligations; we categorically reject these accusations.

“The claims by ComReg, based on documents they interpreted incorrectly, could have been easily clarified had they engaged with us directly in advance of the court hearing. The slides in question were taken out of context.”

The statement said the documents were “part of training material for new customer service agents, outlining the steps they should take to escalate calls to Eir’s dedicated specialist complaint management team. The transfer of a call to the complaints team, rather than giving the Eir complaints phone number and asking them to make a call themselves, is a better experience for the customer.

“It is regrettable and deeply concerning that ComReg chose to introduce these incorrect claims without notice in the court. Eir is committed to the highest standards of compliance and integrity, and we take our legal responsibilities very seriously. At no point has Eir directed any team member to act contrary to legal or regulatory obligations.”

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast