‘Comprehensive’ law to protect whistleblowers comes into effect

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin says Act sets a new standard in terms of international best practice for whistleblower protection

 Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin announced  commencement of Act yesterday. Photograph: Frank Miller

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin announced commencement of Act yesterday. Photograph: Frank Miller

Tue, Jul 15, 2014, 01:00

Long-awaited legislation to protect whistleblowers has finally come into effect after Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin announced its commencement yesterday.

The Protected Disclosures Act passed its final stages in the Seanad earlier this month, having earlier passed through the Dáil on the heels of a number of whistleblower controversies.

The new Act will be “comprehensive”, Mr Howlin said, adding that it “sets a new standard in terms of international best practice for whistleblower protection.

“It sends out a very clear message that whistleblowers’ concerns must be listened to and acted on, and those who make such reports should not be penalised for doing so.”

Independent TD Catherine Murphy welcomed the legislation and said “it’s important we try to strive to have a culture that accepts whistleblowing as actually quite important in terms of checks and balances”.

‘Buried problems’

She added that “culturally we’ve buried problems” and in so many cases it is the whistleblower who is punished. There had been much focus on An Garda Síochána, but Ms Murphy said there were many other cases such as the whistleblower Louise Bayliss, who highlighted concerns about the treatment of female patients in Grangegorman who were locked up at Christmas.

The purpose of whistleblower legislation is to encourage employees to raise genuine and reasonably-held concerns about matters of public interest, free of any threat of sanction.The legislation includes all employees, contractors, agency workers, members of An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces. It also includes scope for protection of a disclosure made before the legislation came into effect.

Interim relief

The new Act provides for the availability of interim relief if an employee is dismissed after a whistleblowing disclosure and compensation of up to five years’ salary, as well as access to the State’s industrial relations machinery to protect against penalties for whistleblowing. The legislation also includes strong protections against the disclosure of a whistleblower’s identity.

The legislation was one of the important areas of reform mentioned by Tánaiste Joan Burton in her speech to the Dáil on the announcement of the Cabinet reshuffle.