More than 200 ‘valid’ whistleblower allegations investigated in past four years
TD warns that protected disclosures process not protecting those reporting wrongdoing
Catherine Murphy, joint leader of the Social Democrats: ‘On too many occasions I’ve seen whistleblowers who have paid a very heavy price in terms of careers being really ruined.’ Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
More than 300 allegations of wrongdoing have been made by public sector whistleblowers to Government departments in the past four years, of which more than 200 were deemed valid protected disclosures and investigated.
Of the 325 disclosures made, 217 were deemed valid for investigation and the vast majority were examined within departments. The 2014 Protected Disclosures Act allows public sector employees to make disclosures of potential wrongdoing while protecting their employment rights.
The Department of Health received 56 whistleblowing complaints, 33 of them considered valid. A total of 32 were referred to the HSE or other bodies under the aegis of the department.
One of those protected disclosures came from a department official in 2020 “and has been investigated in line with the department’s protected disclosure policy and procedures and brought to a conclusion,” Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly told Social Democrats joint leader Catherine Murphy in a parliamentary reply.
Ms Murphy questioned all departments as an RTÉ Investigates programme revealed a protected disclosure by Shane Corr about the department maintaining dossiers of sensitive information on children with autism in legal actions against the State. Mr Corr made his disclosure in 2020.
Not every protected disclosure “will be on the super-serious end or will be upheld”, but she expressed concern the process is not giving the kind of protections intended.
“On too many occasions I’ve seen whistleblowers who have paid a very heavy price in terms of careers being really ruined,” and a change in mindset is needed, she said.
No details were given on any case in the parliamentary replies and most did not state where wrongdoing was found.
The Department of Justice received most allegations of wrongdoing, at 68, of which 44 were considered not valid or referred to the “appropriate aegis body/area” and 10 have been closed.
Thirty-seven complaints came from Irish Prison Service workers. Eleven allegations were independently assessed, four concluded and seven are ongoing.
The Department of Social Protection received 39 disclosures, and four cases were “either partially or fully acted on”. Twenty-six of the disclosures came from five department officials.
Some protected disclosures pre-date the establishment of the Department of Further and Higher Education but are linked to areas of responsibility it has taken over from the Department of Education. It notes 12 valid cases, five of which were finalised with no follow-up, and seven ongoing.
The Department of Education received 15 valid investigations; 10 have been completed and five are ongoing.
No protected disclosures have been made to the Department of Rural and Community Development, of Public Expenditure and Reform or of Foreign Affairs . The Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media received two valid disclosures but found no evidence of any wrongdoing.
The Department of Housing received 13 valid cases and all bar one are ongoing. Of the 28 valid disclosures made to the Department of Defence, seven are ongoing and 21 have been closed.
Ten disclosures were made to the Department of Environment, three of which are ongoing. No wrongdoing was found in seven.
The Department of Children received a disclosure in 2017, but there was no follow-up from the whistleblower.
A second disclosure received in 2019 is ongoing, “but a full investigation was not deemed necessary” because the issues were known and “were being addressed”. A disclosure received in 2016 was “referred to the relevant body for examination and a final report is still awaited”.
Thirteen allegations of wrongdoing deemed valid were made to the Department of Transport, with four concluded and nine ongoing.
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has received nine protected disclosures, four of which are ongoing.
Eight claims of wrongdoing were made to the Department of Enterprise, of which six were transferred to other departments. Two were investigated “with no further action required”. Three protected disclosures have been made to the Department of Finance.