Professor Paul Cahill: legal costs

A LANDMARK Supreme Court case over the dismissal of a university lecturer could end up costing the taxpayer more than €2m, it is believed.

The case taken by DCU against one of its own employees –
Professor Paul Cahill – followed a High Court judgment two years ago, which found the college should not have dismissed him. In the aftermath of that case, DCU decided to take its case to the Supreme Court to prove it had every right to fire the associate professor.

It is understood that legal costs for both sides are now in the region of €1m although DCU has declined to comment on the massive costs involved for the taxpayer and said the estimates were "exaggerated".

A statement released by the college said: "The case raises a very important point of general principle, on which legal clarity was required. We can't really say anything while we are awaiting judgment."

In February 2007, Professor Paul Cahill won his High Court challenge against DCU and was reinstated. However, he has not been allowed to resume teaching and can only engage in research work.

Cahill had joined DCU in October 1999 after being headhunted from an American university.

He was appointed senior lecturer at the school of biotechnology and within two years had been promoted to the position of associate professor and director of the vascular-health research centre.

In March 2006, he told DCU management he had a "conditional" offer of employment with NUI Galway.

However, the deal was never followed through and three months later, on 14 June, he was served with a three-month notice period and told his employment was being terminated.

Cahill claimed that DCU's dismissal of him breached the condition of his academic tenure, which he said was guaranteed.

Justice Frank Clarke said the termination had been "invalid" because the college had failed to follow all of the appropriate procedures and did not provide for his "tenure".

The case was then taken to the Supreme Court where it was heard a week ago. Judgment is now expected by the end of the month.

Professor Seán Ó Nualláin, an outspoken DCU lecturer, has
heavily criticised his own
college, saying the case should never have been taken to the Supreme Court.

"So far, the cost has ratcheted up to an estimated €1m for each side and even that may be a gross underestimate of what this will eventually cost," he said.