DRAFT LEGISLATION to protect whistleblowers, which is being brought to Cabinet tomorrow by Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin, will cover both the public and private sectors.
“We want to get it enacted early so that people who genuinely see wrongdoing, public or private, can blow the whistle without putting themselves on the hazard,” a Government source said last night.
As with the personal insolvency legislation issued last week, which is being brought to the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, the heads of the Bill will be considered by the Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform.
Submissions will be invited from interested individuals, agencies or groups.
The Bill is described as “overarching” and “joined-up” in that it will apply across the board to public and private organisations and companies. The draft legislation is also said to be “robust” and based on existing models in South Africa, New Zealand and Britain.
It is being steered by the reform unit set up by Mr Howlin in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and headed by an assistant secretary.
Arising from a commitment in the programme for government, the legislation aims to provide a “legal charter for good-faith reporting and protected disclosure” for all employees, as well as for contractors who may have vital information to communicate.
A key priority will be “to ensure the legislation treats all parties equally and fairly within an overarching legal framework that is open and transparent”.
Speaking in the Dáil last week, Mr Howlin said: “I have more than a passing interest in the issue of whistle blowing, having had to traipse to the High Court and the Supreme Court to protect the rights of individuals to give information to members of the House on allegations of wrongdoing. I know how stressful this can be.”
Fianna Fáil public expenditure and reform spokesman Seán Fleming said: “We welcome the Bill. We’re very pleased that it is going to be broad-ranging and robust.” He added: “We support the principle of the Bill and we’re pleased that it is coming so quickly.”
Government sources denied a claim by United Left Alliance TD Richard Boyd Barrett that the Bill was being brought forward early as a result of the controversy over Louise Bayliss who temporarily lost her job after she spoke out on the conditions for female psychiatric patients at St Brendan’s Hospital, Grangegorman, Dublin.
“It’s a tribute to Louise Bayliss that her bravery and commitment to telling the truth about what was going on in the mental health services has forced the Government’s hand into bringing forward this long-overdue legislation,” Mr Boyd Barrett said.
“It is another instance of people-power bringing about very necessary change, but let’s hope the legislation matches up to the important need to protect and encourage people working in public services and other sectors of society speaking out about abuses, malpractices and injustices,” he added.