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Dunnes chief Margaret's 'men or mice' comments to me - ex finance head

A DUNNES Stores executive has claimed the supermarket chain's director, Margaret Heffernan, said she "either wanted f***ing men or mice" at a meeting which led up to his alleged suspension.

Larry Howard, head of finance at Dunnes, claims he should not have been put on paid leave by the company following a number of meetings when he was allegedly treated in a demeaning manner by Mrs Heffernan.

Mr Howard, of New Road, Greystones, Wicklow, was given permission by the High Court to bring proceedings against the company to have him restored to his position. The matter comes back before the court next Monday.

Making the application on a one-side-only basis yesterday, Michael McDowell, for Mr Howard, said his client had been left in an appalling limbo and one newspaper had reported him as having left the group.



Competitor

He had been put on "garden leave" which suggested there was something wrong with him, counsel said.

In an affidavit, Mr Howard said he had a close working relationship with former Dunnes chief operations officer, Andrew Street, who moved to become CEO of competitor Superquinn in December 2009.

After this, the attitude of senior Dunnes executives, particularly members of the extended Dunne/Heffernan family, changed towards him.

He believed he was treated differently and excluded from many functions for reasons which he could only assume were based on some unjustified presumption that he was going to leave and join Mr Street in Superquinn.

At a meeting on June 1, 2010, attended by Mrs Heffernan, her daughter Anne Heffernan, Mrs Heffernan's niece Sharon McMahon and advisor Noel Fox, Mr Howard was told by Mrs Heffernan he would have to get himself "up to speed" on a new software package or he would be "wasting your time here".

As the meeting continued, Mr Fox and Mrs Heffernan discussed the issue among themselves for some time before she said: "I haven't seen anyone fired. I haven't seen a constructive dismissal case," Mr Howard said.

Mr Howard believed the comment was a veiled threat that he might be dismissed. She also said she was paying him too much money "to float".

She referred to him and another senior executive with Dunnes in a very demeaning manner and said she "either wanted f***ing men or mice".

There were meetings in November and December last, including one where he was asked if he had been approached to join Superquinn and if he was an "Andrew (Street) man".

Mr Howard said matters came to a head in a phone call from Mrs Heffernan on December 2 last about VAT repayments. She told him: "That is exactly why you have no future in Dunnes Stores."

On December 21, he was told by Mrs Heffernan's daughter Anne to go home while "issues" were investigated. When he returned on March 7, he was again told by Ms Heffernan to go home and when he asked if that meant she was dismissing him, she told him she was not and his salary would be paid.

hnews@herald.ie