By Court Reporter
A Longford man has told the Workplace Relations Commission he went to a GP in Derry to get a medical cert exempting him from the face mask rules in place last summer.
John Ryan, with an address at Dun Darrach in Longford Town, told a WRC discrimination hearing that the cert was signed by Derry GP Dr Anne McCloskey.
In his claim against Gerry Ellis & Sons Ltd, trading as Fresh Today at the Axis Centre in the town, Mr Ryan alleges he was discriminated against on the grounds of disability on 29 June 2021.
Mr Ryan alleges he was discriminated against on the grounds of disability on 29 June 2021 when he went to buy plums for his lunch at the grocery shop only to be stopped by an employee who told him to “wear a mask”.
“I said I can’t wear a mask -- I don’t know why you’re shaking your head,” he said, addressing a defence witness. “I was just told to get out of the store if I didn’t wear a mask,” he said.
“I’m in the shop in Longford a lot and I’ve never had this happen,” he said. “It’s only a manager who can ask you if you’re exempt or to wear a face mask,” he added.
“I get severe distress when I wear one, I get panic attacks. Since that date [29 June 2021] I have got a letter from a doctor stating that I can’t wear a face covering,” he said.
The adjudicating officer Marguerite Buckley asked him to submit it by email to the WRC and read it aloud to the hearing.
“In my professional opinion, John Ryan… has a medical condition which renders him exempt from the requirement to wear a face covering,” he said, reading from the note, adding that it was dated 11 August 2021.
“And who signed that?” Ms Buckley asked.
“Dr Anne McCloskey,” Mr Ryan said.
“And where is she based?” the adjudicator asked.
“She’s in Derry,” he replied, and confirmed that Dr McCloskey was his GP.
“You live in Longford – is there a reason that you’re going to a GP in the North?” the adjudicator asked.
“I travel all around and a lot of GPs wouldn’t give any letters around here. It doesn’t matter what excuse you had,” he said.
Ms Buckley put it to him that he didn’t have that letter with him on the day of the incident at the shop, and he confirmed that he had not.
But he maintained the regulations in force at the time afforded him a “reasonable excuse” on the grounds that wearing a mask caused distress.
“At the time you didn’t need a letter from a doctor,” he said.
Michael Ellis, who appeared as the company representative, said the store’s policy at the time was to offer a face mask to customers who weren’t wearing one.
Gardaí had come to the shop to advise them that if customers “didn’t wear a mask and they said they were exempt and they hadn’t a letter of exemption” the shop was to phone and report the matter, he said.
Cross-examined by Mr Ellis, Mr Ryan said he did not wait for the gardaí because he was on his lunch break.
“I went in to get some plums, why should I wait?” he said.
Shop supervisor Edel Brady said she noticed Mr Ryan had no mask on when he went to pass behind her and that she asked him if he would mind putting one on.
“He said no, he wasn’t wearing a mask. I asked him why – he said because he had an exemption,” she said.
She said she told him that they had been advised by the gardaí that he “had to show a letter to prove he had an exemption”.
Ms Brady said that he objected to this on privacy grounds.
“I said to him I never asked him what was wrong with him, I didn’t want to know what was wrong with him – I just needed an exemption letter,” she said.
The interaction continued with Mr Ryan continuing to to tell her he did not want to disclose the information, she said.
Eventually she told him their conversation “was not getting anywhere” and that she had been advised to call the gardaí in the circumstances, she said.
At this point Mr Ryan turned around and went back out the door, she said.
“I did not at any point ask him to leave” she said.
“He says he can’t get a letter from anywhere except by going to Derry, but we had numerous people coming into the shop with letters of exemption,” she added.
The adjudicating officer, Ms Buckley, closed the hearing to consider her decision – telling the parties they were not likely to receive it for a number of months.