On this day in 2011, Kate Fitzgerald was found dead at her Dublin home having apparently taken her own life. She was 25.
Kate was a Broadsheet commenter and an unusually sincere one. Amid thousands of made-up identities and goofy avatars, she used her own name and headshot (pic above).
America-born, Kate was chairperson of the US Democratic Party Committee in Ireland and a public relations executive who had shown great promise as a serious journalist.
But, as the controversy following her death would demonstrate, Kate was only ever an outsider and her reputation expendable. Against the public image of those that mattered, she simply didn’t matter.
Overleaf, observing our strict ‘no commenter left behind’ policy and with access for the first time to correspondence, emails, texts and phone records, we have sought to find out what happened between Kate Fitzgerald and her high-profile employer, the reasons the Irish Times edited her final words and why she matters now.
Clockwise from top left: Tom Savage and Terry Prone; Anton Savage, Kevin O’Sullivan, and Peter Murtagh
Apology to The Communications Clinic, Irish Times, December 3, 2011
Kate Fitzgerald was born in 1986 in San Jose, California, to Tom Fitzgerald, an emigrant from the Kerry Gaeltacht, and Sally Ann Yoes, daughter of Ralph Yoes, a Pulitzer-nominated editorial cartoonist for the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Tom subsequently set up the technical writing business Bard na nGleann and when the family moved back to Ireland some years later, Kate and her brother William came with them.
After school, Kate studied International Relations at Dublin City University. During her time there, she was auditor of the Debate Society, Secretary of the Societies and Publications Committee (SPC) and organiser and SPC Rep for the 2006 Clubs and Societies Ball. She also ran for the position of Vice President for Welfare in her final year, losing out by just a handful of votes.
In 2007, Kate was elected chairperson of the Irish branch of the US Democratic Party Committee Abroad.
During the first Obama campaign, having supported Hillary Clinton in the primaries, she represented Democrats Abroad in the media, appearing on Sky News, TV3, and RTÉ. She was featured twice as a panellist on Tonight with Vincent Browne.
On one of these occasions, she was joined on the panel by Irish public relations expert Terry Prone.
Ms Prone and her husband Tom Savage had been instrumental in the development of fellow RTÉ presenter Bunny Carr’s Carr Communications. In 2008, they broke away from Carr to set up their own PR company, the Communications Clinic.
Although a PR firm, the Communications Clinic retained close links with broadcast media. Tom Savage was appointed Chairman of the RTÉ Board in 2009. Their son Anton Savage was a regular stand-in presenter on RTÉ and Today FM.
In addition to PR, the Communications Clinic also ran a highly successful media training operation. Over the years, many politicians, TV and radio presenters had benefited from Terry Prone’s training skills.
After the show, Sally Ann Fitzgerald suggested that Kate write to Ms Prone, and ask if she could come to work with her in the Communications Clinic. Over lunch with Kate, Ms Prone enthusiastically agreed.
The clinic was a family business, the key decision-makers being Ms Prone, Mr Savage, their son Anton Savage and their business associate Dermot McCrum. Terry Prone’s sister Hilary and her son Ger Kenny were among the clinic’s employees, and Anton Savage’s sister-in-law Pauline would also join the firm in the course of Kate’s employment there.
It was also an organisation with some tensions. Tom Savage, a former priest, was now Director General of RTÉ at a time when the organisation was focusing on child sexual abuse by his former colleagues. The Communications Clinic, while continuing to advise bodies associated with the Catholic Church, was now also acting for organisations representing the rights of abuse victims. Kate was asked to assist Terry Prone with her work in relation to the scandals.
Kate’s mother, Sally, had herself been a victim of serious child sexual abuse – something which had impacted on Kate when growing up. Although it is not clear whether Kate was aware of all the conflicts of interest involved, she began to find work on such matters stressful.
Kate drew the attention of at least one older man whom she met through work. Kate did not respond to his overtures. At the time, Kate was living alone in a one-bedroom cottage in Harty Place, Dublin 8. In 2011, the man left a bottle of Champagne on her doorstep by way of apology.
Kate subsequently wrote an article for The Sunday Tribune about sexual harassment and objectification in the workplace.
There were other problems. Anton Savage’s radio stand-ins and Terry Prone’s role as TV and radio pundit often took them out of the office. Work hours were long and the pace frenetic.
In November 2009, Karagh Fox, aged 26, who had been working at the clinic since March 2008, resigned from her position.
She subsequently brought a constructive dismissal claim before the Employment Appeals Tribunal, claiming that she had been repeatedly bullied by Ruth Hickey, a senior member of staff, who, she alleged, had “screamed at her in the workplace and reduced her to tears”.
Ms Fox’s case came before the Employment Appeals Tribunal in July 2010. Around the same time, another employee resigned to take up employment elsewhere.
This added to the pressure on the office and, by extension, on Kate, who found it difficult to find time to visit her family in Bantry.
The stress, however, did not affect her work. In June 2011, Terry Prone nominated Kate to The Dubliner magazine, as a young Irish person likely to make a mark in the future.
However, increasingly, Kate was drinking more, and relying on her friends to talk her up when she was feeling down.
Kate had two circles of friends. The first was made up of her friends from Dublin City University. The second was a group of inter-college debaters. Kate’s closest friends within this latter group were Clare Hayes Brady, an English graduate, and two former star debaters, Derek Lande and Brendan Bruen.
Kate had dated both Mr Bruen and Mr Lande. Her relationship with Mr Lande, which commenced in 2005 following an inter-college debate, was effectively her introduction to the group.
Kate and Mr Lande subsequently broke up by mutual consent, and remained friends.
Kate subsequently became romantically involved with Mr Bruen. After their break up she retained feelings for Mr Bruen however by July 2011, Mr Bruen was – unknown to Kate – dating a new girlfriend, a mutual friend of Ms Hayes Brady.
When drunk and depressed, Kate had a tendency to combine alcohol and pills. On St Patrick’s Day 2011, and again in June 2011, she was treated in hospital for overdoses.
On the first occasion, Kate was described as ‘drowsy but coherent’. On the second occasion, she had taken two Zanax and drunk one and a half bottles of wine.
On Saturday, July 16, 2011, she got drunk again and sent incoherent texts to Mr Bruen and Mr Lande.
The men called around to her house and, after she had fallen asleep, they put away four to five of seven of Zanax anti-anxiety tablets.
The next morning Kate panicked, emailing Mr Lande to ask:
“Did you find two empty packets of Gerax and an empty packet of Zimovane on the floor (or surrounds) next to my bed. If you did, there is a chance that I woke up and took 16 Xanax and 7 Zimovane, after five Margueritas, and four other Xanax earlier. I would have thought this would have killed me.”
Later that day, Sunday, July 17, 2011, Kate, accompanied by Mr Bruen, Mr Lande and Ms Hayes Brady, attended at the Emergency Room of St James’s Hospital for liver damage screening before being admitted early to St Patrick’s University Hospital.
At 6.15pm, on July 17, while waiting to be seen in St James’s, Kate texted a DCU friend Ellen Hurson, to say:
“I have Clare, Derek and Brendan. I may have to be admitted to St Pats. Am in St James getting tests. Took too many pills, no idea how many.”
In fact, the tests carried out on her in St James’s were to subsequently show that Kate had taken no more than a double dose of her medication.
When subsequently questioned at Kate’s inquest, Mr Lande and Mr Bruen indicated that Kate, had been made aware that the four to five Zanax tablets had been hidden.
However, there were other tablets missing and it does not appear that Kate knew exactly how many tablets she had taken.,
Early in the morning of Monday, July 18, 2011, Kate texted the administration of The Communications Clinic to state that she was medically unwell and would be absent from work that day.
She also texted her immediate line manager Ger Kenny, telling him that she had been admitted to St Pat’s.
On the following day, Tuesday, July 19, 2011, when Kate was told by hospital authorities that she would have to stay in St Pat’s for longer than anticipated, she texted Mr Kenny again, saying:-
“I think I’m going to need to be out for at least two weeks. They’re talking about disability benefit and all of this stuff I’ve never had to deal with… I’m so sorry about this. I’m so sorry.”
At 11.03pm, on the same evening, Kate texted Ceile Varley, another DCU friend, saying:
“I looked back at the messages I sent Brendan when I was drugged. Ceile, it’s so scary. I’m so incredibly scared. And nobody here is telling me what’s happening.”
Subsequently, Kate obtained a medical certificate from her general practitioner and forwarded it to The Communications Clinic.
The certificate did not disclose her admission to St Pat’s and, although Kate had made Ger Kenny aware of this fact, she had also asked him to keep it confidential.
The following Friday, July 22, 2011, Kate received a call on her Blackberry from Anton Savage, managing director of The Communications Clinic, who had been informed of her whereabouts by one of the small number of individuals aware of her admission to St Pat’s.
Kate’s texts record her being upset, particularly in circumstances where, as she herself notes in an email, the guidebook on mental health she had been provided with on her entry to St Pat’s had been written by employees of The Communications Clinic.
The same evening, Brendan Bruen called to St Pat’s to see Kate. He was accompanied by Clare-Hayes Brady, who took another visitor for coffee – to give Kate and Bruen privacy.
Mr Bruen presented Kate with a pocket Dictaphone, to record her thoughts. He also told her that he was seeing someone else.
That evening, Kate also decided to leave St Pat’s. She packed her belongings in black plastic bags, and took a taxi home.
Kate’s medical certificate from her GP covered her until Monday, August 1, 2011. She spent the week following her discharge from St Pat’s at home, alternately sleeping and attempting to find outpatient care.
At 9.24am, on the morning of Friday, 29 July, 2011, Kate texted Anton Savage:
“The doctor has advised that I take another week as I’m still quite serious. I would prefer to go back to work. I haven’t talked you through this yet so thought I should if you’re free at some point? Will meet you if necessary.”
After a subsequent phone conversation with Anton Savage, Kate decided to go back to work the following Tuesday, after the Bank Holiday weekend.
Kate now blamed herself for being a burden on her friends. Attempts to contact her went largely unanswered. She found it easier now to share her feelings with people more distant.
On Saturday, July 30, she attended Mary Kay Anderson, a hypnotherapist recommended by Mary Kay Simmons, a friend from Democrats Abroad.
On Sunday, July 13, she accepted an invitation from Russell O’Connor, whom she had known at DCU, to attend a live jazz concert. Before leaving, she sent the following round robin email to friends to thank them for standing by her:
If you are getting this email because you probably haven’t heard from me for a little while, and in most cases you have found yourself the target of my wrath and indiscriminately fired anger and frustration. I’m copying you all so not one of you thinks that you’re the only one, or that my mostly personal attacks (or silence) have been indicative of a personal issue with one of you. You all got bullied, and how.
Thank you for putting up with me for so long. Nobody ever wrote an instruction book for the people who suffer with the sufferer. You all have been wonderful in your own way, and I know it hasn’t been easy ever.
Please know that each one of you has made my life. I’m so sorry I ever tried to leave it. You may or may not be happy to know that I have put my hair up and my make up on and I’m leaving the house for the first time in quite a while.
Stick with me guys. The next few weeks won’t be fun for me or probably you either, and you may every once in a while want to scream bloody murder at me or just let me alone completely. Do it. I’m still here. But if I start going off the handle again, please remember that I love you, I just have a funny old way of showing it these days.
Later that afternoon, Kate emailed her father to say that she was feeling better.
I’m out listening to live jazz and it’s overcast and kind of lovely but I remembered something you said the other day – that you’ve been sleeping for the last few years and you’re awake now. I think I might have been too.
Anyway, I’m awake!
That evening, Kate also emailed Mary Kay Simmons to thank her for her help.
Mary Kay –
You saviour! Mary Kay (!) was just wonderful and exactly what I needed. I will be going to her again on Thursday.
I’ll have to talk to you properly at some point but I think I need to sit and process what we talked about tonight. But honestly, thank you. I really think this is going to be a huge turning point for me and I can’t tell you how grateful I am to you for this. I really think you came at exactly the right time.
Thank you, thank you.
On Tuesday, August 2, 2011, Kate returned to work at The Communications Clinic. On the day of her return, she was called to a meeting with Anton Savage, Dermot McCrum and Ger Kenny.
Kate exited this meeting believing that her admission to St Pat’s – and the circumstances in which Anton Savage had been made aware of it – had done irreparable damage to her position at the clinic.
Later that evening she met with Brendan Bruen – a graduate of the King’s Inns – for an informal ‘legal reading’ of the situation.
Following this conversation, Kate began to look for work elsewhere.
Kate’s altered position in the workplace was made clear to her over the next few days. She discovered that during her absence she had been taken off a number of files on which she had been working.
Anton Savage’s sister-in-law Pauline had started with the firm after Kate’s arrival there. Now, Pauline was in charge of Kate. Much of Kate’s time over the next couple of weeks was spent on Pauline’s files, including a photo-call in the Phoenix Park for a washing product.
Pauline was also in charge of a presentation for the same product scheduled to take place at the Electric Picnic music festival on September 2-4, 2011, and made clear to Kate that she would be expected to work with her at the festival.
This was something which caused great anxiety to Kate, as she had a family event scheduled that weekend. Her younger brother William, who had been studying in China, was returning home and the family had arranged a celebration.
Kate – who had reduced contact with most of her other friends – continued to be in contact with Brendan Bruen by chat and email, on work-related matters. One of the few files which she had been left related to his employer, IBEC, for whom Clare Hayes-Brady was also working at the time.
Kate also had financial pressures to deal with. Already short of cash on her low salary, she was finding it impossible to meet the additional costs associated with her admission to hospital and subsequent outpatient care.
Repayments were also running late on a loan she had taken out with Bantry Credit Union.
On Monday, August 8, 2011, Kate emailed Mary Kay Simmons again, saying:
“Work has been very, very difficult…. and I am looking elsewhere for my next challenge. Things are still a little bit tough and I am still suffering with extreme ups and downs, but I think I hit rock bottom a couple of weeks ago and hope I don’t go back again, for everyone’s sake.”
One positive note was that Kate had a first-round interview with Ernst & Young scheduled for the following Thursday, August 11.
In her second week back at work, she texted Anton Savage for permission to take some time off for an appointment on the morning of the interview saying that she would be back around noon and could come in early.
Anton Savage replied:
“If you check it doesn’t cause anyone a problem, and if you’re in good and early that day, then certainly.”
Kate’s interview was scheduled for early in the morning and she was unable to get into work first. Her absence was noted by Anton Savage, who reprimanded her.
Kate subsequently texted Anton Savage apologising:-
“I couldn’t afford to get where I was going from here as opposed to home. Apologies, I should have texted you to let you know. I’ve done several early mornings and late nights in the past couple of weeks and as always will stay on late tonight if there is work to be done.”
Anton Savage replied:
“If you’ve been doing late evenings and early mornings make sure it’s in the diary and the hours and by all means draw my attention to it. Don’t decide it allows you to not show up.”
On the same morning an email was sent by Anton Savage to all staff at The Communications Clinic:
“Folks, if you are doing anything other than being at your desk all day it should be in your diary and on the daily sheet. From now on, please make sure meetings, absences, sessions out of house are in your diary and on the sheet.”
That afternoon, Kate emailed another friend. She stated:
“I have resolved to quit my job if I find a new one. Work did not respond to finding out about my depression well. I’ll explain sometime. Long, long story.”
Her friend replied:
“If I may write down everything you can remember about it now and anything and everything…anyone… does, you can at least have the possibility of using it later.
“I’d never take them to court though. I wouldn’t want my name in the papers…”
In the last week of Kate’s employment with the clinic, she sought repeatedly to be allowed to spend the weekend of September 2-4, 2011 with her family.
On the morning of Tuesday, August 16, 2011, Kate emailed her immediate line manager Ger Kenny:
“Just so you know, I was told yesterday that I will be working at Electric Picnic. The original plan was that Denise would work at it but it is now assumed that I can (I was not asked, I was told. My plan was to go home that weekend as my brother is coming home but of course I didn’t say that and I’ve now learned a valuable lesson about booking leave six months ahead of time).
So I have been told to block book my diary from the 29th. In case you’re wondering. Not that I think you can do anything about it any more than I can. Unsurprisingly, I will not be taking any leave this year. This, after my basically doing PR 101 with her yesterday. I’m fairly certain that nobody has the authority to tell me where I am going to be for a week. Maybe I’m just “obsessed with hierarchy” but I’m getting very sick of explaining to a “manager” how to do her job and then getting told to drop my life. K.”
That lunchtime, Kate sent a further email to Ger Kenny:
“Regarding showing up at EP – I’ve thought about it and I’d prefer to say I can’t work at this. I had promised (loosely, yes) that I would go home when Will gets back and I’d prefer not to give me more ammunition in the “your job is ruining your life” war (which is an easy win even without this one particularly given that I’ve already had to ask them for money to try and afford medical bills I am paying so that I’m not in the hospital and taking an undefined period of sick leave). Have you talked to Dermot about this? Would I put getting myself into unnecessary hot water if I say that I really can’t do this? Or is it just a losing battle that I have to suck up and get on with. My instinct is that if I’m going to say no I need to say it now.
Mr Kenny replied:
“If you genuinely can’t do the gig then you should tell her and tell her right away. That way she can work out who to use instead of you rather than being left with a last minute panic.”
Later that day, Kate emailed Pauline, who was on holiday:
“Hi Pauline, With regard to Electric Picnic. I will absolutely be able to work any of the week days leading up to the event (from the 29th onwards). However, with regard to the weekend. I had made a prior commitment about two months ago when you had agreed that I would not be required to attend the event itself. It has been difficult to get out of this commitment as it is a family one and requires that I be in Cork.
If it is absolutely necessary for me to be in Stradbally for the Saturday and Sunday in order to work could you let me know now. I understand that a representation needs to be made by The Communications Clinic but I will be available for the rest of the working week and can even go down on the Friday if needs be, I had just planned to be in Cork that weekend. I had not mentioned this before because I thought that my family plans wouldn’t be a problem to back out of, but it is causing more difficulty than I thought it would especially given that I had worked thus far on the basis that I would not be needed in Laois on the weekend. Could you confirm if I am absolutely needed at the event in Laois on the Saturday and Sunday.”
“Yes, unfortunately you and I both need to be there. I’m sorry about this, I’d rather not have to be so definitive in my answer but I hope you can understand.”
The following day, Wednesday, August 17, 2011, Kate, approached Anton Savage directly for permission to be excused from the festival. He refused to overrule Pauline.
That afternoon, Kate emailed her father, Tom Fitzgerald, saying:
“Had another showdown with Anton and have absolutely had it. I told them I couldn’t work the weekend at the start of September and they’re making me do it. I would like to give them my two weeks notice now and get out of here and focus on finding a new job. Could you call me about this?
I know I don’t have an offer but even if I could do some work for Bard until I find something new, even if you need me to do a few days a week in Cork, at least I’d be able to get time to do interviews and go to the doctor. This job may not have caused my health to fail, but it’s making it impossible to fix. I’m completely 100% fed up.”
Tom Fitzgerald’s advice was that Kate – who was actively seeking alternative employment, and was due for a second-round interview at Ernst & Young the following day – would find it easier to obtain a new job if she had one already.
Kate’s response to these events was to do what she had previously done when experiencing unwelcome overtures at work – to write about it, for a national paper.
She had been working on an article about her experiences with the clinic since her initial meeting with Anton Savage following her return to work.
The following day, Thursday, August 18, 2011, after her second-round interview with Ernst & Young, she skipped Clare Hayes-Brady’s birthday party to finalise this article over the phone with her mother Sally Ann Fitzgerald.
It was agreed that, rather than use her real name, Kate would submit the article under a pseudonym, Grace Ringwood. Ringwood being her maternal grandmother’s maiden name.
Kate’s article was finalised and emailed to Peter Murtagh, at the time Opinion Editor of The Irish Times, on the morning of Friday, August 19, 2011, with a note saying that if he needed information to confirm the validity of the piece, to get in touch. It read as follows:
“I DON’T have all of the answers. This, if said by any normal person, is comforting, freeing. The weight of responsibility, of questioning one’s own judgment is lifted, and a mind that is commonly accepted as being logical, as being mentally sound may find a way to embrace this if only for selfish reasons, for their own sanity.
I am a depressive. I am also a professional, a consultant. I am one who is hired to look in control, organised, polished, almost perfect at all times and to represent a point of view unflinchingly at all times. I wish that I were writing this primarily as a consultant and secondarily as a depressive, but I have come to realise that the former is as much a part of my person as the latter.
In a world where everything must appear in black and white in order to be understood or accepted, it has taken me six years to put words to it, and thus to make it real. I do this partially for the sake of catharsis, but mostly in the hope that I will reach those who have not yet accepted this disease those who live with depressives, those who love depressives, those who employ depressives.
Some months ago I attempted to take my own life. When I failed I was encouraged by friends to voluntarily check into a hospital they said they no longer could take care of me. I signed a form with an unknown level of alcohol and pills in my system. For all intents and purposes, my admission was voluntary. In reality I was too mortified not to follow the wishes of my seemingly put-upon friends, not to survive for the sake of my job, and far too blinded by the smoke and mirrors of depression and self-inflicted harm to realise what I was doing.
It is important to note that I love my job, and, crucially, I love my employers like a family. When I could not get a firm answer as to when they would let me leave the hospital, I checked myself out, against medical advice, left in a taxi at midnight with my clothes packed in plastic bags. All because, I told myself and later my director, I wanted to go back to work. More than the urge not to live at all, I didn’t want to live without my work.
Mine was not a work-related illness. At least not before I entered the hospital. However, when I was released and when I returned to my office, things became different. I knew it would be difficult to explain to my employer, and I knew it would be difficult for them to understand an illness with no visible symptoms. I did not, however, expect that I would be met with casual hostility, with passive-aggressive references to my mental incapacity for my profession, and my apparently perceived plan to leave the company entirely in the lurch.
When I returned from my two-week stint in mental health limbo, where doctors and nurses admonished me for my apparent need for control, my definition of myself through the value of my trade, I expected to be accepted back as the hard-working employee I have always been.
I do not blame my employer. Ultimately those who have not suffered from the illness do not know how to approach it in others even those who have suffered from it may find it difficult. When I returned I found myself pitying my manager who met the story of my misery with confusion and the suggestion that I could not be trusted with seniority. I was accused of planning my absence. Every question seemed posed with the hope that it might bolster a preconceived notion. Clearly, they had no idea what to do.
Much of what my employer has done and said since my absence has been illegal. And I do not think for a minute that what my employer did was an isolated incident. I know this article must be anonymous, and I have no interest in shaming those I work tirelessly for. Their interests are still inextricably entwined with my own.
However, if Ireland is ever to address the alarming rate of death by suicide 527 in 2010, many as young as I, and who knows how many attempt or consider or plan for it everyone must remember that they do not have all of the answers. Because we can t afford it. Every day a company loses a valuable employee and every day a family loses one they love. At a time when small, medium and large companies rely on dedicated staff for the vision and drive to pull them through challenging times, these are not losses we can risk taking on the chin.
I have not done everything right. However, I am working to the stage where I know not having all the answers does not mean that I have failed, does not mean that I am crazy, and certainly does not take away from my ability to do my job well.
The illness that follows me every day, that keeps me awake at night, that even sometimes drives me to be better at my job and seek the appreciation of my employer and those who rely on me to succeed I have accepted that it must be managed, but it cannot be managed without the help and encouragement of those I work for.
I write in the hope that this grabs someone, anyone, and makes them think twice about what they may lose by not asking the question. Seek guidance. Seek insight. For when you ask a question a true question only then can you receive an answer. And answers.
In writing an anonymous article, Kate needed to provide enough information about her background to make the allegations credible. At the same time, she needed to avoid giving away – or definitively giving away – her identity.
Kate’s article described her as a “consultant… hired to look in control, organised, polished, almost perfect at all times and to represent a point of view unflinchingly at all times.”
Her style of writing, and her known background in public relations, meant that it was likely that members of The Communications Clinic would suspect her of being the author, even if they could not definitively prove it.
Kate submitted her article to The Irish Times shortly after finishing work on the late evening of Friday, August 19, 2011.
At this point, she was awaiting the outcome of her second-round interview with Ernst & Young. If she was successful in this interview, she would no longer be working at The Communications Clinic when the article was published.
Over the weekend, Kate slept and filled in job application forms online. Sunday night was spent on the phone to Newstalk on work-related matters.
At 8.41am, on Monday, August 22, 2011, Kate called in sick to work, emailing Anton Savage:
“Hi Anton, I’m very unwell today. Will have to wait until Wednesday still to see the doctor but won’t make it to work today. I’ll brief Aileen on any work that may come up and do as much as I can from home.”
She also texted other members of the clinic, saying that she was bedridden but would be working and to send through anything they needed her to do.
Kate worked at home throughout the day on the IBEC file and on other matters for Ger Kenny, Dermot McCrum, and Pauline.
Around noon, she received a replying email from Peter Murtagh of The Irish Times. He stated that he did not normally publish anonymous contributions, but was prepared to make an exception for her piece.
She subsequently emailed her friend Ceile Varley with the good news, saying, in relation to the clinic:
“I know they might figure it out and it’s a big risk but it’s the only control I can have, short of suing them.”
Shortly afterwards, Kate emailed Ger Kenny to raise a query regarding her workload for the following week, drawing his attention to the fact that they would be short-staffed due to preparations for Electric Picnic and that another employee would be in Cork.
Mr Kenny replied that she would be busy and that it “would be an interesting week”.
In response, Kate wrote:
“All the while I’m sleeping entire days and unable to walk without falling over. Useful. If also amusing, a little.”
Ger Kenny replied:
“Being positive today – so, you’re getting some sleep – excellent.”
At 12.31pm, Kate received the following text from Anton Savage:
“Kate, are you going to be in work tomorrow and Wednesday?”
She immediately replied, saying:
“I intend to be. I’ve been ill since Friday so it should be better by tomorrow.”
Mr Savage replied:
“Please let me know when you’re definite either way.”
At lunchtime, Kate texted Denise Kenny, a former employee of The Communications Clinic, saying:
“I can’t care anymore, I’m at my wit’s end. I can’t stand working in there, it’s terrible.”
At 3.51pm, Kate phoned Office Angels, a recruitment firm with whom she had been in contact the previous Friday in search of temporary account or reception work.
At 4.17pm, she made two calls to St Patrick’s Hospital, the first to their general number, and the second to their Support and Information Service.
Kate continued to work the on IBEC account in relation to a forthcoming article about Jobseekers being placed in Hot Press magazine.
Mr Bruen was quoted in the article and Kate had contact with him in relation to same throughout the afternoon.
Kate was also called on to deal with minor matters arising from an account relating to a client representing victims of sexual abuse.
At some point that afternoon, Kate also phoned Peter Murtagh in response to his earlier email, disclosing her identity, her previous publications [on American politics[ for the newspaper , and the identity of her employers.
Mr Murtagh subsequently described her as “clear, calm and comfortable with what she was saying… normal and balanced and not on the edge.”
At 6.47pm, Kate texted Anton Savage again:
“Hi Anton. I will be in tomorrow. Once I have had my appointment with the doctor on Wednesday, I will need to meet with you. Could you let me know when suits?”
Anton Savage replied:
“Wednesday afternoon. What time will you be back in?”
“The appointment is for 2, I shouldn’t be longer than an hour (unless they make me wait which they often do). But it’s only on Baggot St. Maybe make the meeting 4 to be safe?”
Anton Savage replied:
“Fine, but if you get finished earlier I’ll be in the office.”
A follow-up email to Peter Murtagh sent by Kate as she was finishing up work around 7 p.m. states as follows:
“Dear Peter, Thank you for your call earlier._ It was very comforting to hear your interest in the area, even if my piece in particular may not be deemed suitable. Nevertheless, if you do decide to publish it, do please let me know.
And again, if there is anything else I can contribute or another area of the issue you would like me to write about, please do not hesitate to ask. I enjoy writing, and I think a great deal can be gained from writings on this issue in a paper like The Irish Times.”
What happened subsequently that evening is unclear. At 8.05pm, Kate phoned her parents Tom and Sally Fitzgerald in Kerry, but was unable to get through.
Throughout the early evening, she also chatted by text with her friend Ceile Varley. The text conversation related to men, and the importance of being tough with them. Kate warned her friend ‘Don’t turn into me’. According to Ceile Varley, the last message received from Kate was at 9.25pm.
She did not reply to two earlier texts received that evening, one from Russell O’Connor telling her to ‘Get Up’ and another from a man, Andrew, whom she had met online, asking her if she was interested in meeting up.
Kate’s Blackberry also shows her as having contacted Brendan Bruen by chat a number of times throughout the evening.
An initial chat message ‘what’s up how are you’ was sent by her to him, as she was finishing up work. A longer message was sent at 9.22pm: “Hey I know this isn’t ideal but I’m at a loss would it be ok if I came over for an hour? If you are busy it’s totally fine I’ll figure something out.”
At 9.54pm, she gchatted him again: ‘I take it it’s a bad time – I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked. Goodnight.’ In evidence subsequently given at Kate’s inquest, Mr Bruen said that he was at dinner with a friend and did not get the messages.
Kate did not turn up for work on Tuesday, August 23, 2011.
Her line manager Ger Kenny contacted Clare Hayes Brady, whom he knew through The Communications Clinic’s work for IBEC.
Mr Bruen and Ms Hayes Brady called around to Harty Place the same day during their lunch break, entering using a key kept at Mr Lande and Mr Bruen’s apartment.
Their subsequent statements to Gardai detail that they found Kate’s body hanging from the top shelf of the hot press behind the door of her bedroom.
She was barely off the ground and her neck was tightly pressed against the shelf. Mr Bruen cut her down and laid her on the bed. Ms Hayes Brady phoned 999 and the fire brigade arrived within minutes, but attempts to resuscitate her were unsuccessful.
Later that day, the body was examined by Dr YM Fakih, pathologist, who pronounced death at the scene, and said, in his opinion, Kate had died in the previous three to eight hours.
No photos of Kate’s body were taken by Gardaí attending at the scene, nor was there any attempt to preserve the ligature by which she had been hanged.
In Bantry, Tom Fitzgerald was at work when he was informed by phone that something had happened. He entered the house to the sound of his wife crying. Tom and Sally accepted Kate’s friends’ offer to clear her rented house and pack away her belongings.
They also decided that her body should be brought to Bantry for funeral and subsequent cremation.
Before deciding to cremate Kate, Tom Fitzgerald sought – and received – assurances from Garda David Healy, the officer in charge of the case, that her death was “100% suicide”.
At Sally Ann’s request, Anton Savage and Dermot McCrum did not attend Kate’s funeral. Neither did Terry Prone or Tom Savage.
Instead, the following letter was sent to Sally and Tom by Ms Prone::
Dear Sally and Tom,
We are devastated by the loss of Kate. Your shock and pain are unimaginable and unreachable by any expressions of sympathy, no matter how heartfelt.
From the moment I met Kate on a TV show, I was fascinated by her. Her walk – gliding through crowds. Her ladylike manner – Jane Austen. Her impassioned views. Her love for her family. She was charming, clever – unique.
In the last few bad months, our people, particularly Gerard, Dermot and Anton, did their best to be helpful to Kate in their different ways and from their different positions. Gerard says you don’t want Dermot or Anton at the funeral. In the light of that request, it clearly wouldn’t be right for me, as their chairman, to be there.
I am desperately sorry for the agony visited upon you by Kate’s death and pray that you will be sustained through this suffering. Tom joins me in saying that if we can ever be useful to you, we would – in Kate’s memory – be eager to.
With sympathy and prayer,
Two of Kate’s mobile phones, were disposed of in the clean-up of her house, meaning that any information contained on them was no longer available. Her laptop and Blackberry survived, and were ultimately handed over to her parents, as was the dictaphone given to her by Brendan Bruen during his visit to St Pat’s.
Kate had in fact been successful in the Ernst & Young interview.
One of her interviewers, John Ward, subsequently wrote to Tom and Sally Fitzgerald, saying that:-
“Even though I only met her for a very short amount of time it was clear that Kate was a unique individual. Of everyone we interviewed for the role here in EY, Kate was the person with the ‘wow’ effect – in fact, having met Kate for the first time, my colleague Emily and myself l literally looked at each other after she left and simultaneously said “wow”’.
As soon as we met Kate we knew that this was someone we wanted to work with. In fact, it soon became clear that Kate became the measure we began to use to assess the other candidates, ”They were good, but, were they as good as Kate?” became the first question we’d ask each other after any subsequent first round interview with other candidates.
But even though Kate had surpassed the professional standards one might have expected the winning candidate to possess, it was her personality, her maturity and her absolute lack of ego during our meetings that really endeared her to us – in short, Kate seemed like a lovely person…
She was a breath of fresh air during an otherwise long and drawn out interview process – but for Emily and myself, Kate was much more than just another smart communications professional with an impressive CV – she was clearly an exceptionally bright, clever and friendly young woman and a credit to those who inspired her. “
The topics of depression and suicide featured heavily in the Irish media in the autumn of 2011 – due in part to the fact that Fine Gael Presidential candidate Gay Mitchell – advised by Terry Prone – had decided to make suicide the theme of his presidency if elected.
On Friday September 9, 2011, the day before World Suicide Prevention Day, Kate’s anonymous article on depression appeared in The Irish Times.
On reading it, Tom Fitzgerald thought it might have been the piece submitted by Kate prior to her death.
He contacted The Irish Times switchboard, who put him through to Peter Murtagh. Mr Murtagh – who was shocked to hear of what had happened.- subsequently conducted an interview with Tom and Sally which formed the basis of a further article.
This article “She radiated talent, energy, beauty. She took her own life at the age of 25” which appeared in The Irish Times on Saturday, November 26, 2011, clearly identified Kate as the author of the September article.
No thought appears to have been given by the paper to the possible legal ramifications of this identification, nor the possible cross-identification of her employers. Nor do such ramifications appear to have been considered by The Irish Times’ lawyers.
This is when we became aware of the circumstances surrounding Kate Fitzgerald’s death and later, on that Saturday, we published Kate’s article in full.
In a separate post, we drew attention to Karagh Fox’s case and the evidence given by her to the Employment Appeals Tribunal that Anton Savage had failed to deal adequately with her bullying claim against Ruth Hickey.
On Monday, November 28, 2011, The Irish Times website, without any explanation, and without consultation with the Fitzgeralds, edited the September article to remove a number of key paragraphs critical of Kate’s employers.
The original amendment line in the irishtimes.com archive read: ‘’This is an edited version of an Irish Times article originally published on September 9th, 2011″.
On the evening of the same day, a journalist with an Irish newspaper left a voice message for Broadsheet’s co-founder John ‘Preposterous’ Ryan. The caller said that Broadsheet had “stepped on a libel landline” and was “going to be be wiped off the face of the earth”.
He added that Kate had been “mentally ill”, was on “suicide watch” at The Communications Clinic and had never complained to her colleagues or management about their attitude towards her illness.
[Broadsheet subsequently received an email from, and met with, a senior colleague of the journalist concerned, who initially denied on their behalf that the warning had been given at the behest of The Communications Clinic. The journalist, an acquaintance of the Prone-Savages, said he found it “very hard to believe that any of them could have responded as described to an employee saying she was suffering from depression.”]
That night, following the voice message and on foot of legal advice, we removed the posts on Kate Fitzgerald.
The next day , we received an email from The Irish Times online editor Hugh Linehan which asked:
“Was wondering why you took down that post. Was pressure applied?”
We replied that we had received a late-night warning and added:
“This was to be expected but [we] noticed you guys had pulled extracts from Kate’s original piece (referring to her employer) presumably on legal advice (?) and became anxious as our posts were based on that piece. [we] spoke with a barrister friend at about 1am who advised us to remove the two posts about Kate.”
On the morning of the following day, Tuesday, November 29, 2011, we reinstalled our posts on Kate Fitzgerald following conversations with Kate’s parents and a number of people who had personal knowledge of Kate’s situation at The Communications Clinic.
Later that day, following a Broadsheet post on the editing of the article by The Irish Times, we received an email from Peter Murtagh asking us to contact him “urgently” about “refs to us [Irish Times] that are incorrect”.
Mr Murtagh stated that the The Irish Times did not edit Kate’s article because of a threat of legal action from The Communications Clinic but on legal advice from the paper’s own lawyer(s).
When Broadsheet asked Mr Murtagh if The Irish Times had acted solely on its own volition, he said that The Communications Clinic had been in touch “with the paper” and had “registered its unhappiness” about the allegations contained in Kate’s original article.
On Thursday, December 1, 2011, Sally Fitzgerald appeared on Newstalk to discuss her daughter’s death. It was made clear to her that The Communications Clinic was not to be the subject of discussion.
On the evening of Friday, December 3rd, 2011 – the day before Kate’s memorial service in DCU – The Irish Times website commenced further editing of the September article.
Later that evening, the paper posted an apology to The Communications Clinic which also appeared in the following day’s Saturday edition of the print edition and read as follows:
“An article was published in the edition of September 9th last in which the anonymous author detailed a personal history of depression. That article included allegations that friends and her employer, none of whom was identified, had let the author down as she struggled with her illness. Since then we have learned that significant assertions within the original piece were not factual. It is clear that their publication was significantly damaging to the staff and management of her employer, the Communications Clinic. This was not intended and we apologise for it. The Irish Times fully acknowledges the bona fides of the Communications Clinic in this regard. No legal representation was made to us on this matter.”
On November 26, 2011, immediately following the publication of Mr Murtagh’s interview with Tom and Sally Ann, Brendan Bruen wrote the to The Irish Times objecting to the identification of Kate.
On the morning of Saturday, December 3, 2011, after publication of the apology, Mr Bruen sent a further email to the editor of The Irish Times Kevin O’Sullivan.
In it, he stated that the implication in Peter Murtagh’s article that he and other friends had let Kate down was without basis, and had caused deep hurt and distress.
Mr Bruen stated that he was disappointed that Mr O’Sullivan had not also acknowledged, in his apology, that The Irish Times did not stand by that assertion.
As regards the remainder of the apology, he stated:
“I believe the Irish Times acted correctly in apologising to the Communications Clinic. I can’t speak to the broader environment, but the actions of her immediate manager went far above and beyond the call of duty, and can be utterly without reproach.”
Kevin O’Sullivan replied to Mr Bruen shortly after receipt of his email, stating as follows:
Thank you for your letter. My sincere apologies for the delay in acknowledging it. I have noted all of its content, especially in relation to you and your friends helping Kate in such a meaningful way. This must be a very difficult time, knowing the extent you all were there for her. I will ensure that Peter is made aware of your letter.
In an earlier statement made by Mr Bruen to Gardaí, following discovery of her body, in which he had said:
“Her employer had not been supportive towards her and Kate said she had been given lower level projects to look after. A [person associated with] the company that Kate worked for had made a pass at Kate. It was an ongoing issue. Kate had rejected [his] advances but that was a while ago. When her employer found out Kate had been admitted Kate felt her employer was trying to show her the door.”
That evening, Sally Ann, Tom and William Fitzgerald appeared on RTÉ’s The Saturday Night Show with Brendan O’Connor to talk about Kate’s death.
The show was pre-recorded specifically so that the presenters could remove any reference to The Communications Clinic if one were made.
The next edition of The Irish Times on Monday, December 5, 2011, contained two separate pieces relating to Kate Fitzgerald. The first was an account by Peter Murtagh of her memorial service at DCU.
The second was an op-ed piece by The Irish Times editor, Kevin O’Sullivan, about The Irish Times’ decision to edit her article, in which he stated:-
“The Irish Times sets high ethical standards for itself with a commitment to fairness. Sometimes they are not met, as some have contended in our coverage of this case. These are demanding requirements. Sometimes it’s a delicate weighing of often conflicting facts and details, when the full picture has yet to emerge. That is what we attempted to do in this case. Suicide is such a difficult, complex subject; when someone chooses to take their own life with devastating consequences for their family, friends and colleagues.
Coverage of suicide issues frequently provokes intense emotions and contention… After publication of the piece on Kate’s life some further details of her final months emerged. This led to an Irish Times decision to edit the initial piece and to publish a clarification in [last] Saturday’s editions. In my view, this was necessary in the context of fairness and it does not undermine in any way Kate’s life and the story told by her family, including her brother William.”
On December 20, 2011, in a further article beginning ‘Journalism is a messy, imperfect trade’, The Irish Times online editor Hugh Linehan wrote:
“When we have reason to believe that the newspaper may be at legal risk due to something we’ve published, certain processes kick in… In the case of Kate Fitzgerald’s anonymous article of September 9th, following legal advice we were asked to edit it on the afternoon of Monday, November 28th.
The original amendment line in theirishtimes.com archive read: ‘’This is an edited version of an Irish Times article originally published on September 9th, 20111″. Following complaints from some users, we re-wrote the line on Wednesday morning to read: “This article was originally published on September 9th in The Irish Times. It was re-edited on November 28th following legal advice.”
Referencing online criticism of The Irish Times’ actions, Mr Linehan added:
“Unfortunate and painful though these events have been, we as professional journalists and publishers took what we believed to be the best action from an ethical and legal perspective. We believe that to have acted otherwise would not have been brave, but irresponsible. We acknowledge the hurt, bewilderment and anger felt by the friends and family of Kate Fitzgerald over what has happened, and apologise for our part in contributing to that.”
In January 2012, Tom and Sally Fitzgerald made a complaint to the Press Council about the apology, which they claimed was in breach of the Code of Practice for Newspapers and Magazines.
The Press Ombudsman, John Horgan held that the newspaper, in publishing the apology, had failed to take into account the feelings of Kate Fitzgerald’s grieving parents and, following publication, failed to take sufficient remedial action to resolve their complaint.
A further claim that The Irish Times had breached the Code of Practice by failing to investigate, prior to editing, the truth or accuracy of the statements in Kate’s article was rejected by Mr Horgan, as being out of time on the basis that the article the subject of the apology had been published more than three months previously.
On appeal, the Press Council found that this latter decision was an administrative one, from which there was no appeal. Sally Ann Fitzgerald, from a newspaper family, found this decision inexplicable.
The inquest into Kate Fitzgerald’s death in 2011 was not held until 2013. having been adjourned pending a review of the way in which the original Garda investigation into her death had been handled.
In 2012, the Dublin Coroner’s office had forwarded Tom and Sally Fitzgerald an unsolicited copy of Kate’s autopsy report, which disclosed fracturing of the hyoid, a bone in the neck that would normally be left untouched in a hanging but is often broken in a manual strangulation case.
This caused them to doubt the view earlier expressed by Gardaí, that Kate’s death was 100% a suicide.
Further investigations by them disclosed that the Gardaí had failed to examine the cupboard in which she had been found hanged, or to retain the ligature believed to have been used during her death.
Kate’s autopsy results also showed Kate had normal levels of prescribed drugs and the equivalent of one alcoholic drink in her system.
Following representations by the Gardaí, a review of the investigation of Kate’s death was carried out under the charge of a detective superintendent.
The review confirmed that there were flaws in how her death had been examined. However it concluded that it was unclear what impact if any this had on the case as “potential evidence” was not “properly maintained” and was now “irretrievably” lost.
Garda David Healy, the officer in charge of the case, resigned during the original investigation and is no longer a member of the Gardaí.
Mr Bruen’ gave evidence at the inquest that Kate believed her employer was not supportive after her hospitalisation and that she had been lower level jobs to do.She felt she was being shown the door, he said, and had began looking for a new job.
Although this information had not been included in Mr Bruen’s email to Kevin O’Sullivan it was identical to what he had said in a statement to gardai – with one difference
There was no reference at the inquest to Kate having received unwelcome overtures from a man associated with her work
Mr Bruen also confirmed that, when leaving her house for the hospital, Kate believed herself to have taken the tablets hidden by them the previous evening.
Evidence was also given by Dr Consilia Walsh, a psychiatrist in charge of the community psychiatric services at Baggot Street hospital, which Kate had been attending since June 2011.
Dr Walsh had not seen Kate personally and any evidence given from her had been extracted from her file. Dr Walsh stated that Kate’s file indicated a depressive illness and borderline personality traits.
Her last assessment had been on July 27 and she had looked very well and had engaged well with her review.
Dr YM Fakih, the pathologist who had pronounced death at the scene, also gave evidence at the inquest.
He could not remember what the ligature around Kate’s neck had been made of, nor whether it was in situ or loosened at the time he had carried out his autopsy.
Nor did he remember what she was wearing. In response to questioning on these matters, he stated that his function had merely been to confirm her death and make a cursory observation.
He did admit, under questioning, that a mark recorded by him as having been on the right side of Kate’s neck could have been a thumbprint.
Dr Fakih’s evidence was supplemented by that of his superior, Professor Marie Cassidy, who ruled out a third-party involvement and said that Kate Fitzgerald died as a result of hanging.
The jury accepted Dr Cassidy’s evidence, returned a verdict of death by suicide and added a recommendation that photographs be taken by attending gardai at the scene of any death.
Tom and Sally Fitzgerald have never accepted the inquest verdict and continue to express their concerns over how the original investigation was handled.
In August 2014, new Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald confirmed her department has assigned a legal counsel to review the case. In an August 8 letter to the family, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald’s private secretary, Chris Quattrociochi, wrote that
“The minister has established a mechanism for the independent review by counsel of certain allegations of garda misconduct, or inadequacies in the investigation of certain allegations, with a view to determining to what extent and in what manner further action may be required,” the correspondence read.
In reply, Tom and Sally Fitzgerald said:
“We are delighted that the new minister is taking steps to investigate.”
Terry Prone continues to provide training and PR assistance to well-known firms, political parties and politicians, including Frances Fitzgerald.
There is no record on Kate’s Blackberry of any email, text or phone contact from Ms Prone following Kate’s hospitalisation. Ms Prone appears to have spent much of August, 2011 in Florida.
In 2015 Anton Savage was given his own radio show, The Anton Savage Show, on Today FM, airing from 9am to noon.
The same year, Ger Kenny and Dermot McCrum separated from the Communications Clinic to set up their own operation, Strand Communications.
In March 2016, The Irish Times reported that abridged accounts filed with the Companies Registration Office showed an increase in the Communications Clinic’s accumulated profits from €580,521 to €682,105 in the 12 months to the end of March 31, 2015.
Brendan Bruen left IBEC in January 2015. He subsequently set up his own consultancy, before being appointed director of the Irish Investment Managers Association in March 2016.
Karagh Fox’s case against The Communications Clinic was settled shortly after Kate’s death. In March 2012 she got a new job with a marketing company, where she has remained since.
Tom and Sally Fitzgerald, and their son William, left Ireland and returned to the US in 2015, where they now reside at Sea Ranch, California.
Kevin O’Sullivan remains editor of The Irish Times. To date, Kate’s original article remains excised on The Irish Times online archive, though available to read online on Broadsheet and other sites.
The position of The Irish Times remains the same as set out in December 2011 – namely that Kate’s assertions are non-factual.
To date, no statement has ever been issued by The Communications Clinic in relation to Kate Fitzgerald.
Pics: Rollingnews/Irish Times/RTÉ
Previously: Kate Fitzgerald on Broadsheet.ie