Whistleblowers still seen as being ‘out to cause trouble’

Retired garda tells committee he would support penalties for deliberately making ‘false’ claims

Retired garda John Wilson said he  took issue with people who made whistleblower allegations and then did not follow them up.  Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Retired garda John Wilson said he took issue with people who made whistleblower allegations and then did not follow them up. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Whistleblowers who report wrongdoing in the public sector or other workplaces are still wrongly seen as troublemakers, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

Philip Brennan, managing director of Raiseaconcern, which work with whistleblowers in the public and private sectors, said a culture change was needed so that people reporting wrongdoing were regarded positively rather than seen as being “out to cause trouble”.

Whistleblower reports, known as protected disclosures, allow public servants to report allegations of being penalised for raising concerns or reporting wrongdoing in the workplace.

The Oireachtas Committee on Finance was discussing the Protected Disclosures (Amendment) Bill 2021, which transposes an EU directive on whistleblowing protections into Irish law. It would widen the groups covered by protected disclosure legislation to include volunteers, board members and shareholders.

The legislation will also mean private companies or other organisations with 50 or more staff will be required to set up formal channels for employees to submit protected disclosures. A protected disclosures office would also be set up within the Office of the Ombudsman.

Small companies

Mr Brennan criticised the fact that the proposed amendment did not cover small companies or organisations with fewer than 50 staff. He said that while burdening smaller organisations with compliance requirements should be avoided, the “risk of wrongdoing exists in micro and small enterprises just as it does in medium and large ones”.

“There is nothing to prevent Government bodies, trade associations, voluntary bodies and others from making template policies, procedures and processes available at low or no cost to micro or small enterprises, thereby eliminating or at least minimising the cost of compliance,” he said.

Mr Brennan said that when investigations into protected disclosures uncovered wrongdoing, legislation should go further and require the public body or organisation to address the “underlying root causes that prevailed which facilitated or enabled the wrongdoing to take place”.

The committee also heard evidence from a number of whistleblowers who had previously reported alleged wrongdoing.

John Wilson, a Garda whistleblower who along with Maurice McCabe reported issues around the cancellation of penalty points within the force, said the “sad reality” was that those who raised concerns were still penalised.

Bona fide

The former garda, who retired in 2013, said he welcomed further legislation to protect “bona fide” whistleblowers. He said he would support penalties “for people who deliberately make false allegations and portray themselves as whistleblowers”.

Mr Wilson said he also took issue with people who made allegations and then did not follow them up, comparing it to throwing “a grenade into a room and running away”.

Mr Wilson said when allegations from whistleblowers were upheld, there was often “zero accountability” for individuals found to be in the wrong.

Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness said in recent years many public whistleblowers had been left with “a huge scar” from trying to raise their concerns.