A retired garda inspector says his former commanding officer was "arrogant" and "very confrontational" in a meeting with a sergeant who had been injured in the line of duty.

The retired officer was giving evidence today to the Workplace Relations Commission in Sergeant David Haughney's complaint under the Employment Equality Act 1998 against An Garda Siochána – which he has accused of discrimination on the grounds of disability.

Witnesses who knew Sgt Haughney told the tribunal today that he was left in tears following one meeting with his superintendent and that his "confidence was shattered" and it was "like his soul was destroyed over a few weeks".

Sergeant Haughney received a permanent eye injury in a December 2014 assault leaving him with 70% vision loss on one side.

He claims he was prevented from continuing his work as a senior instructor in use-of-force techniques and public order command advisor following medical leave for treatment of a detached retina in the injured eye in 2019.

Sgt Haughney said that between suffering the injury and undergoing the operation he had continued his duties but after the operation in 2019 he was told he could no longer work in his preferred field.

Sgt Haughney contends that although he suffered no further loss of vision, his superintendent at Midleton in Co Cork departed from a "precedent" set by three predecessors and took a restrictive view of medical advice stating he was to engage only in "strictly non-confrontational duties".

Retired inspector Joe O’Connor, Sgt Haughney’s line officer in roads policing at Midleton, said he went to the return-to-work meeting at the request of Supt Adrian Gamble on 1 October 2019, having already started work again.

"The atmosphere in the room was hostile. We went in – I thought it was going to get very confrontational; [there was] hostility, unfriendliness," he said.

"On whose part?" asked Sgt Haughney’s solicitor Michael Hegarty.

"On the part of the superintendent," Mr O’Connor said. "Superintendent Gamble sat there with a sheet in his hand. He waved it about."

"I didn’t see this sheet of paper, Sgt Haughney didn’t see the piece of paper," he said.

He said the superintendent "cut across" Sgt Haughney and that the complainant was "nearly in tears".

Mr O’Connor said the superintendent had challenged Sgt Haughney on his recent attendance as a tactical advisor to the commander in charge of a security operation for the visit of former US vice president Mike Pence to Co Clare in late 2019.

"[Sgt Haughney] believed that Superintendent John Deasy had arranged it with [Supt] Gamble for him to attend," said Mr O’Connor, stating that Sgt Haughney was trying to make this point but that the superintendent "kept interjecting".

The witness added that the superintendent had been "arrogant, trying to interrupt Sgt Haughney".

Counsel for An Garda Siochána, Declan Harmon BL, objected to this line of questioning, telling adjudicating officer Jim Dolan the evidence being elicited by Mr Hegarty had "more relation to a harassment claim which is not before you".

Mr Hegarty said he needed to put context on the complaint.

Mr O’Connor continued to state that going forward, Sgt Haughney "couldn’t go out in the car, couldn’t supervise anyone" and was limited to working at the station in the traffic office.

The office was in a former Department of Posts and Telegraphs exchange building at Midleton station, which Mr O’Connor said was "like going into a cell".

Cross-questioning the witness, Mr Harmon put it to him that Superintendent Gamble "has quite a different recollection of that meeting" and that he would say in his evidence that it had been "businesslike and professional".

"I came up here and swore to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. What I’ve said is the truth. It was tense, confrontational, hostile and unfriendly, and you know, the one time I really felt sorry for Sergeant Haughney," he said.

Sgt Haughney’s evidence had been that he was limited to those duties for some 11 months before taking stress leave.

"Dave became extremely distressed, his confidence was shattered – it was like his soul was destroyed over a few weeks," Sgt Haughney’s partner, fellow officer Sgt Denise Coleman, told the tribunal in evidence today.

Another former Midleton-based officer, retired inspector Eoghan Healy, said Supt Gamble was "adamant that he was protecting Sgt Haughney's eye"

He said he had been directed by Supt Gamble to ask Sgt Haughney if he could attend two hours early for his 4pm shift on 15 April 2020 for a meeting relating to the use of spit hoods.

Sgt Haughney’s evidence was that he met the superintendent coming out of his office when he arrived and was told: "You’re happy to wait, I’m going for my lunch."

"I had come in early specially for that, I’m flexible. He thought so little of me that it was: 'You’re going to have to wait, I’m going for my lunch’," Sgt Haughney said.

"He was visibly upset. I apologised to him because I was the person who’d asked him to come in early," Mr Healy said, adding that he had a conversation with Sgt Haughney at that point regarding the Garda bullying and harassment policy.

Mr Harmon said Supt Gamble’s evidence would be that he was returning from his lunch when he met the complainant, not leaving, and that the complainant was only asked to wait as long as it took to the superintendent to get settled in the office.

Sgt Haughney told the tribunal that he took a grievance in relation to the incident, with his complaint initially rejected before being upheld on appeal.

He said the outcome was that the superintendent was required to attend training.

The tribunal also heard evidence today from Superintendent John Deasy, the public order co-ordinator for the southern region, who said he had urged the force to create a role to use Sgt Haughney’s skill-set in a new training office.

The respondent case opened with the evidence of the Garda chief medical officer, Dr Richard Quigley, and the tribunal also heard from Garda Karl Burton, the national public order trainer based at Templemore college.

Dr Quigley said the occupational health department could give medical guidance, but it was a matter for local garda leadership to assess the risk.

He said the advice from his office when the sergeant returned to work in December 2015 was that he "should not undertake" duties with a risk of physical confrontation – advice the adjudicator, Mr Dolan, noted was "very similar" to the later advice.

Mr Hegarty asked the respondents to provide a copy and that was agreed.

"It would be hard to negate the risk," Garda Burton told the tribunal. "It would be hard to separate the confrontational side of the job we do. You’d have to isolate that, greatly reduce the amount of work a person would do in that role… The trainer is there for what-ifs… they may be asked to step in [as instructor] to take up one of the confrontational roles," he added.

The case was adjourned to the next available date, yet to be fixed by the WRC, when Superintendent Gamble is expected to give his evidence.