On the bank of the River Lee in the heart of the city lies the Cork Opera House. The only purpose-built opera house in Ireland, the venue has been a focal point of Irish dramatic arts for over 150 years, but sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction. 

For the house’s former financial controller, Dermot O’Driscoll, the truth is just that. 

O’Driscoll first began working for the Opera house in 2010, enjoying a healthy stint at the establishment before being placed on suspension and subsequently losing his job in 2016. 

According to O’Driscoll, he was penalised for making a series of protected disclosures to his superiors, passing on information that he believed pointed towards the company’s potential non-compliance with tax law.

The Cork Opera House says he never made a formal protected disclosure nor was he penalised. 

O’Driscoll acknowledged that he never accused the company of evading taxes, but observed that the company was at risk of breaking tax law. 

He ultimately lost the decision in the Labour Court, but the case highlights the implications of the Protected Disclosures Act, and the fine line between a lawfully protected complaint and one that is not well-founded. 


On July 13, 2015, Dermot O’Driscoll sent an email to the then CEO of Cork Opera House, detailing his concerns over how the company might be partaking in fraudulent accounting. O’Driscoll says he issued the concerns under the Protected Disclosures Act of 2014, which entitles employees to raise concerns of wrongdoing within the organisation to their employer without discouragement or repercussion. 

The CEO asked O’Driscoll to bring his concerns to the company’s finance committee, and four days later, the committee held a meeting to discuss the topic. 

The company’s auditors reassured the CEO that they did not have concerns over any fraudulent accounting, a sentiment backed by the finance committee at the meeting. 

O’Driscoll submitted a second email complaint on October 27, 2015, to a director who was also the chairman of the audit and risk committee, expressing that he still felt the company was in danger of tax law non-compliance despite the finance committee dismissing the complaint the previous July. 

The director responded to O’Driscoll asking what he should do, and O’Driscoll said he wanted the issue to be investigated. 

Two finance committee members took on the investigation, a task that would end up backfiring on O’Driscoll.

According to Labour Court documents:

“They found that there were no compliance issues and that this was the same issue that he had previously raised. It is his evidence that they accused him of insubordination and gross misconduct for seeking to revisit an issue he had previously raised. It is his evidence that the penalisation that arose in respect of this protected disclosure was that he was accused of insubordination and gross misconduct and that the detriment that occurred was that he was suspended with pay from May 25th 2016, and without pay from August 30th 2016.“

O’Driscoll also claims that the opera house sent him an email on August 10, 2016, threatening to fire him if he did not sign a letter of undertaking which stated that “he must accept the outcome of the investigation.” 

O’Driscoll sent a third protected disclosure on April 20, 2016, over a separate issue. This time, he expressed concern over the house cafe selling alcohol under their liquor licence.

He admitted, though, that he received no penalisation from this third disclosure. 

 Cork Opera House’s Side of the story

The Cork Opera House maintains that the complaints O’Driscoll submitted were not protected disclosures, as he did not provide any tangible evidence of wrongdoing. 

The opera house’s barrister, Rachel O’Flynn, drew the Labour Court’s attention to the minutes from a company meeting on November 16, 2015, regarding O’Driscoll’s complaints. 

During the meeting, O’Driscoll stated, “I am not saying we are not compliant with tax law. I said in my disclosure that I am concerned of a risk of possible non-compliance. I am not saying that the CEO did not comply with tax law and I am making no such allegation.”

According to Labour Court documents:

“O’Flynn put it to the Complainant that this amendment clearly indicates that he was not disclosing any relevant wrongdoing and therefore there was no protected disclosure.”

The investigation derived from O’Driscoll’s fraudulent accounting complaints gave him the option to appeal its decision if he was unhappy with the outcome, which he did not do, instead, raising the issue to a different superior several months later. 

On June 26, 2015, the then CEO sent out a policy directive regarding the same topic that O’Driscoll would address in his complaint two weeks later. O’Driscoll was even involved in drafting the document before it was sent out. 

According to Labour Court documents:

“It was put to the Complainant that he had been involved in the drafting of that policy document. Therefore, what was contained in his email was not a disclosure of relevant wrongdoing. The Complainant accepted that a policy document had issued and that he had a role in the preparation of same but did not accept that his disclosure was not a protected disclosure.”

O’Flynn also detailed the steps the company took to address O’Driscoll’s concerns.

On November 10, 2015, O’Driscoll received a letter from the opera house telling him that the investigation he asked for was to be carried out. It also provided him with a copy of the advice the auditors gave regarding the issue. O’Driscoll acknowledged that he received the letter and that the auditors disagreed with his concerns. 

He received another letter on October 27, 2015, detailing further advice from the auditors following up on his second complaint. 

According to Labour Court documents:

“It was put to the Complainant that the advices from the Auditor were reasonable advices. The Complainant accepted that they were. It was put to him that he is saying that the Respondent is not compliant. However, the Auditors are saying they are compliant. The Complainant confirmed that he accepts that the Auditors gave reasonable advice, but he does not accept that the Respondent was compliant.”

O’Flynn argued that O’Driscoll’s position was contradictory to his previous accusations, now saying the auditors and finance committee are correct but the company is wrong for failing to adopt their advice. 

O’Flynn also circled back to her position that his statements at the November 16 meeting supported the position that his complaints were not protected disclosures.


The Labour Court said it first needed to determine if O’Driscoll’s complaints were indeed protected disclosures before they could rule on whether the opera house penalised him for it. To do so, they required evidence that O’Driscoll was calling attention to wrongdoing. 

Having heard the cases presented by both sides, the court could not find evidence that O’Driscoll complaints were founded on his knowledge of wrongdoing. 

The court ruled:

“While the Complainant continued to assert that these were protected disclosures he did not dispute when it was put to him by Counsel for the Respondent that in his amendments to the minutes of the meeting of the November 16th 2015, he had confirmed that he was not saying that the Respondent was not compliant with tax law nor was he saying that the CEO did not comply with tax law.

The Complainant confirmed in his evidence to the Court that he is not saying that the Respondent or the CEO of the Respondent at the relevant time were not compliant with the tax law. On that basis the Court determines that no relevant wrongdoing as defined by the Act had been identified and therefore no protected disclosure was made.

Having determined that no protected disclosures were made the Court did not need to go on to consider the issue of penalisation.”