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Film censors suing Justice Minister over attempts to remove them from their positions

Both plaintiffs are women in their 70s.

Image: Shutterstock/Alexbom

TWO OF IRELAND’S assistant censors at the Irish Film Censor’s Office have brought High Court proceedings against the Minister for Justice aimed at preventing their purported dismissal from the office.

The action has been brought by Olga Bennett, a former FF senator of Inchicore Road, Dublin 8 and Mairead Marron from Knocksdean Demesne, Swords, Dublin, after the Minister for Justice informed them that their position with the office will cease on 31 March.

They claim the Minister’s decision to terminate their office is unlawful and has been orchestrated in a deliberate and cynical manner so as to remove them without being exposed to any claims.

Both are aged in their 70s. Bennett receives €2000 gross per month, while Merron says she is paid €1300 gross for the role.

Marcus Dowling Bl, for the two, said his clients had been two of Ireland’s five assistant censors since the mid-1990s and, in that time, had “seen a lot of bad films,” before giving them their classification.

Counsel said his clients had been treated as being self-employed. That changed in 2016 when they were informed that their remuneration was subject to deductions for PAYE and USC which they believed meant they were now employed under a contract of service.

They claim this was done as part of a Government campaign to deal with so-called bogus self-employed arrangements in the Irish economy.

Last August, they both received letters from the Minister stating that all five assistant censors were to be terminated on 31 March 2017 and a new panel selected from which future appointments would be made.

The Minister said after clarifying the legal position of the status of assistant censors, it was decided that all five should be treated the same, regardless of their contracts.

Claims

Marron and Bennett were on open-ended contracts, while the others were on fixed-term contracts.

The Minister also stated that if anyone wanted to apply for inclusion on the new panel, they would have to submit an expression of interest.

Counsel said that it appears his clients were being sacked to justify the sacking of the others, which they say is unfair.

Counsel said it seemed that the date of 31 March was chosen to ensure that his clients were removed before the 12 month anniversary of their charge of status from self-employed to employed when certain employment rights come into effect.

They were unsuccessful in their applications to be included on the new panel, counsel said, adding that they were not given reasons for their rejection. The two of the three other assistant censors who reapplied were successful.

In their action, they seek various declarations including that they hold the office of assistant censor.

Seeking declarations

They also seek declarations that the reason for their termination must be communicated to them, and that the process being used by the Minister is unlawful in the absence of a rational reason.

They further seek an order quashing the Minister’s decision to terminate their office as assistant censors.  As part of their proceedings, they also intend to ask the High Court for an injunction restraining the Minister for Justice from dismissing them from the office pending the outcome of their action.

Permission to bring the action was granted, on an ex-parte basis, by Justice Seamus Noonan. The judge, who also granted the parties permission to serve short notice of the injunction proceedings, made the matter returnable by Thursday of this week.

Read: Eircom fined for over-charging nuns’ nursing home and leaving it without phone service for weeks >

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Aodhan O Faolain

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