GEMME Ireland hosted a very successful hybrid mediation event on 19th April 2023 held at the Bar of Ireland. The seminar explored the theme of mediation in employment law disputes with a focus on the processes and mediator skills that leads to a successful mediation. Two accredited, experienced mediators and recognised employment law experts presented at the seminar.
The event moderator was Ms Justice Marguerite Bolger, Judge of the Hight Court, and speakers were Mark Connaughton, SC, and Breda O’Malley, Partner, Hayes Solicitors. The event attracted the largest audience online for a GEMME Ireland event as well as in-person attendees who participated enthusiastically in an engaging Q & A.
Ms Justice Marguerite Bolger, in her opening words, pointed to the wide range of employment law disputes that are regularly mediated from bullying in the workplace, employment equality, restraint of trade to termination of employment. She highlighted the success of mediation in settling the most acrimonious and complex of employment law disputes. This requires skilful mediation and the quality of mediation in her view was inextricably linked to the skills, experience and expertise of the mediator.
Mark Connaughton, SC and accredited mediator, emphasised the importance of the right of access to the courts as a core value of the judicial system and how mediation offered a realistic alternative in dispute-resolution approaches. The role of the mediator was to remain neutral and to proceed in a fair, just manner in order to uphold the integrity of the mediation process. Securing the confidence of the parties is hugely important. The mediator must not prolong the mediation process and must retain realistic expectations. Mark gave examples to demonstrate his view that there is no dispute that is not amenable to mediation. The full text of Mark’s presentation is available at the following link.
Breda O’Malley, Partner and accredited mediator, Hayes Solicitors, spoke of the importance of the mediator bringing authenticity to the mediation so as to ensure the integrity of processes. Breda highlighted her preference for confidential engagement with the parties over a reliance on position papers at the outset. She emphaised the importance of early and clear identification of the issues. She accepted that mediation breaks down at times but that most parties respect the process and work hard at finding a resolution to their dispute. Breda emphasised the very personal dimension of mediation as it involves human beings at vulnerable times in their lives when relationships had broken down and lives were upturned. The mediator needs to move parties out of deadlock, make sure they are heard and guide them towards resolution. Breda spoke of the role of an Anam Cara (a close listening friend/party) who accompanies and supports someone at mediation and how the mediator needs to engage with them, particularly during important periods of time out. She described an employment mediation process as a 100-piece jigsaw; 40 pieces-employee, 40 pieces-employer and the role of the mediator is to find the missing 20 pieces to successfully complete the picture in a way that satisfies all the parties.
There was a lively Q&A session with the audience and some interesting points were raised and addressed.
Drawing the seminar to a close, Ms Justice Bolger illuminated the key points made by both speakers in their insightful presentations. She spoke of how a successful mediation is grounded in integrity, mutual respect and confidentiality and will enable people to get on with their lives in a way that makes them feel part both of the process and the creation of the resolution. She thanked Mark and Breda for their generosity in sharing their experiences and the learning they had given to the audience.
Mark Connaughton is a Senior Counsel and accredited mediator. Early in his career he worked in employee relations. He practices in civil and commercial litigation and is co-author of Employment Law in Ireland (2nd edition, 2022). Mark has engaged extensively in mediating individual and collective employment disputes, including mediating negotiations between the State employers and Hospital Consultants in 1997 and again in 2007-8.
Breda O’Malley is a Partner in Hayes solicitors LLP, where she leads the firm’s Employment Law group and is an accredited mediator. She has participated in several mediations both as mediator and advisor relating to workplace & business disputes, concerning a whole array of employment issues as well as commercial, boardroom, charity trustee and shareholder disputes.
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