Northern Ireland

Healthcare worker who liked Michaela McAreavey video loses unfair dismissal case

Michaela McAreavey was murdered while on honeymoon in Mauritius in 2011 (Family handout/PA)
Michaela McAreavey was murdered while on honeymoon in Mauritius in 2011 (Family handout/PA)

A healthcare worker who liked and shared a video of an offensive song about murdered Co Tyrone woman Michaela McAreavey has had a claim that she was unfairly sacked from her job dismissed.

An industrial tribunal panel described the streaming of the video in an Orange Hall last year as a “truly disgraceful event” and ruled that the Southern Health and Social Care Trust was entitled to dismiss Rhonda Shiels from her employment.

There was widespread condemnation after the footage which was livestreamed from Dundonald Orange Hall in May 2022 showed a number of men singing a song which appeared to mock the daughter of former Tyrone GAA manager Mickey Harte, who was murdered while on honeymoon in Mauritius in 2011.

Ms Shiels had been employed by the Southern Trust as a healthcare assistant for five years.

The footage had been livestreamed by Andrew McDade, who is Ms Shiels’ partner.

The industrial tribunal was told that Ms Shiels had liked and shared the video on her Facebook account.

In her evidence to the tribunal, Ms Shiels had stated that she had not watched all of the video and that she had switched if off before the point in which the offensive singing took place.

She said she had not become aware of the offensive singing until days later.

The trust had however concluded that she had behaved recklessly in liking and sharing the video without satisfying herself as to its content.

She had been dismissed from her job in July 2022 and her appeal against that decision was dismissed by the trust in August.

Ms Shiels then brought a claim of unfair dismissal to an industrial tribunal but stated she was not seeking re-instatement.

Andrew McDade industrial tribunal
Andrew McDade lost a challenge to his sacking from his job as a lorry driver earlier this month (Liam McBurney/PA)

The written judgment said: “On 28 May 2022, the claimant had attended an event in the grounds of Stormont.

“On the same date, her partner had been taking part in a march organised by the Orange Order and had then been invited to Dundonald Orange Hall, together with other bandsmen and members, for refreshments.

“The claimant’s partner had livestreamed a video from Dundonald Orange Hall on his own Facebook account.

“The claimant (Shiels) had been immediately notified of that livestream and had opened it.

“The claimant accepted in a statement of agreed facts that she had liked and shared the video.”

The panel ruling stated: “The background of this claim is the singing of a sectarian and misogynistic song in Dundonald Orange Hall.

“The singing of that song by a large group of people was not prevented or stopped by others present; it was in fact applauded.

“This had been a truly disgraceful event.”

Donna Traynor tribunal
The Office of Industrial Tribunals, Killymeal House, Belfast (Brian Lawless/PA)

The judgment concluded: “The decision by the respondent (Southern Trust) to uphold the charges of gross misconduct and to impose a penalty of summary dismissal was, in the opinion of the tribunal, a decision which a reasonable employer could properly have reached in all the circumstances of this case.

“This had been an act of recklessness and a clear breach of the social media policy.

“It had had a severe and continuing impact on the respondent’s activities in providing services to the public and would inevitably have had a serious impact in relation to the claimant’s working relationships with other employees and indeed with members of the public with whom she came into contact in the course of her work.

“It had been such a serious matter that a reasonable employer could properly and summarily dismiss the employee for a first offence.

“The claimant’s reckless act in liking and sharing this video on her own Facebook account had brought the respondent into serious disrepute.

“The circumstances were such that summary dismissal was justified.”

Mr McDade lost an industrial tribunal case against his sacking from his job as a lorry driver earlier this month.

Jamie Bryson, who represented Ms Shiels during the hearing, said his client was disappointed by the ruling and would consider all appeal options.

He added: “Ms Shiels apologised again to the Harte and McAreavey family during the tribunal, and repeats the apology for any hurt unintentionally caused by her actions, which were held to be reckless, but not intentional, in liking and sharing a video without satisfying herself as to the content.”