Garda whistleblowers will be protected under new Bill

Brendan Howlin tells Dáil legal framework for combating corruption is ‘world class’

Minister for Public Reform Brendan Howlin said protections in the Protected Disclosures Bill  related to both internal disclosures by gardaí and those made to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

Minister for Public Reform Brendan Howlin said protections in the Protected Disclosures Bill related to both internal disclosures by gardaí and those made to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

Thu, Feb 27, 2014, 01:00

Legislation to protect whistleblowers moved a step closer after the Protected Disclosures Bill passed second stage in the Dáil yesterday.

The legislation, which has already been passed by the Seanad, provides a legislative framework for the protection of whistleblowers in all sectors of the economy.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin said it would address a significant gap in Ireland’s legal framework for combating corruption and last night told the House it was “world-class” legislation.

He told TDs work was underway in his department and the Department of Justice to “to determine how best to ensure that a legal framework for Garda whistleblowing under the 2005 legislation is fully aligned with the principles enshrined in this new, modern Bill”.

The Minister said the protections related to both internal disclosures by gardaí and those made to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, (GSOC).

Mr Howlin said the commission’s remit would be expanded through a “specific amendment to this Bill”.

“This would allow GSOC operate within the architecture of the Protected Disclosures Bill and accept reports, complaints or observations from Garda whistleblowers or members of the Garda Síochána.”

‘Reform agenda’

The legislation would replace the system put in place by the existing 2005 Act, he said.

Mr Howlin stressed: “My view that the priority must be to ensure that the legal framework for Garda whistleblowing is fully effective, that it works, that it protects members of the Garda Síochána and that it is consistent with the principles of this Bill, which is regarded as world class.”

Referring to the controversy over allegations of Garda malpractice and incompetence, the Minister said “events of recent times have underscored its importance and topicality but also its centrality in the reform agenda that the Government is putting in place”.

The Minister was replying to the second stage debate on the Bill. He said it was “important that an appropriate period of time be allowed to ascertain whether the legislation fully meets the objectives and the ambitions we have set for it, and we are ambitious in this regard.”

‘Robust framework’

He referred to remarks by Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae about the need to strike a balance “that an accusation is not a fact until it is properly weighed and analysed”.

Mr Howlin said a complicated framework was necessary for this. He added: “We need to have a robust, accurate framework for protecting somebody who identifies wrongdoing and wants it rectified, but also to protect people against whom accusations are made to ensure that false and damaging accusations are not allowed to be untested.

“As with the normal balance of justice, we have to ensure that an accusation is not definitive proof. We have, I believe, in this complicated mechanism, struck the balance right in terms of best practice in the most progressive regimes we have looked at, and then migrated it into this legislation.”

He also said it would be premature to establish a monitoring body at the outset. But “a detailed review of the operation of the Act would be carried out within a five-year framework”. He added it would give sufficient time “to have a real feeling for the operation of the Bill. If any serious issues emerge regarding the efficacy of the legislation at any stage, I would be very happy to return to it.”