An ESB employee who made a number of protected disclosures under the whistleblower legislation has said he was asked to sign a “gagging clause” as part of a proposed termination agreement .
Seamus O’Loughlin told the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment he was “hammered” when he raised concerns about safety and leaking fluids.
However, the managing director of ESB Networks said Mr O’Loughlin’s claim the company tried to stop him raising the issues further was a “fundamental misinterpretation of the clause” in the document.
Paddy Hayes, managing director of ESB Networks, said the company has an appreciation of staff coming forward with their concerns. "The ESB has, over many years, invested in an open culture which encourages employees to identify and report any safety issues or potential safety issues they become aware of."
Mr O’Loughlin told the committee he has been on stress-related leave since May 2018. At one stage, he said, he was asked to sign a termination agreement that included a “gagging clause”.
He said he had raised concerns internally about training and safety issues for staff who were using propane gas and about the leakage of fluids from 120km of underground cable that uses the fluid as insulation.
The average leakage rate was 50,000 litres per annum over the past 20 years, or 17 per cent. The equivalent rate in the UK was 2 per cent.
In relation to a gas called sulphur hexaflouride, Mr O’Loughlin said the Moneypoint substation leaked more of this gas than the entire UK transmission network.
However, ESB networks operation manager Claire Quane said the use of the gas had dropped significantly since June as as result of the changing of equipment used at Moneypoint. The replacement of the equipment was a major operation that began in 2012 when the capital budget for it was approved.
Mr Hayes said the current rate of leakage from the legacy underground cables was comparable with international peers. The fluid was “readily biodegradable”, he said.
Five leaks to water in the period since the 1993 had all been reported to the relevant local authority or Waterways Ireland, or both, he said.
Executive director Paul Mulvaney told Eamon Ryan of the Green Party that replacing the underground cables was "really tricky" and could lead to disruption equivalent to the laying down of a number of Luas lines.
Mr O’Loughlin said he was concerned as to whether he would still have a job in six months’ time. He said he would like to re-engage in meaningful mediation with the company and be “part of the solution” to the challenges faced by the ESB.