Whistleblower safeguards do not go far enough, says McGrath

Protected disclosures Bill to provide for transposition of EU directive into Irish law

Measures in place to protect whistleblowers have not gone far enough, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath has said.

Mr McGrath said for too many whistleblowers the decision to highlight wrongdoing often comes at “great personal cost” to them and their families and this can have “a chilling effect putting off others from stepping forward”.

Mr McGrath was speaking in the Dáil on Tuesday, as the Protected Disclosures (Amendment) Bill 2022 was being debated, which will provide for the transposition of the EU whistleblowing directive into Irish law.

The Minister said the directive was “among the most far reaching and most significant pieces of legislation” ever to be adopted by the EU.

The directive significantly widens the scope of persons who are entitled to protection for speaking up and will require many employers to establish formal channels and procedures for their workers to report concerns about wrongdoing, Mr McGrath said.

It also requires recipients of disclosures to take very specific steps with clear timelines to follow up under reports they receive.

Mr McGrath said a number of recommendations put forward by the Oireachtas Finance Committee have been referred to the Attorney General for further consideration.

“Implementing some of them may be complex from a legal perspective and more time is needed for this consideration,” he said.

“Given the deadline of December 17th, 2021, for the transposition of the directive, I did not want to delay the publication of the Bill any further. Accordingly, I will bring a number of amendments during the later stages of the Bill in respect of some of the committee’s recommendations.”

Complex issue

Mr McGrath said he acknowledged there was disappointment that the Bill does not address the status of existing protected disclosures that have been made before the new legislation comes into force.

“This is a complex issue but it is one area in particular that I have asked my officials to work with the Attorney with a view to bringing proposals at committee stage,” he added.

Sinn Féin TD Mairéad Farrell said whistleblowers can suffer greatly for speaking out and acting in the public interest.

“They pay a very high price for speaking out both financially and in terms of their health. We have felt what should have been gotten rid of was this cap on awards because we do know and we saw the evidence in the [Oireachtas finance] committee that people are ostracised as a result of speaking out.”

She said research pointed to whistleblowers losing out on more than €40,000 over the course of their working life.

Labour TD Ged Nash said people take "a huge risk" when they draw attention to wrongdoing and can take "an enormous personal toll".