24. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the status of the deliberations of the panel of barristers he has convened in respect of protected disclosures from current and former gardaí; and if he is satisfied with the manner in which protected disclosures are being handled by An Garda Síochána. [11955/19]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): As the Deputy is aware, the Protected Disclosures Act allows members of An Garda Síochána to make a protected disclosure to one or more of a number of persons, including to the Minister of the day.
Since 2014, my Department has received 24 letters from current or former members or employees of An Garda Síochána in relation to matters which might be regarded as a protected disclosure.
Following consultation with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Attorney General, a panel of counsel was established in order to provide independent legal advice to my Department on how each case should be treated. Five nominated counsel were assigned to the panel and to date I have received advices on six referred cases. In order to ensure an independent assessment of these matters, counsel have been instructed to assess all relevant documentation relating to the allegations and to make whatever recommendations they see fit.
The Deputy will appreciate that, by their very nature, this correspondence may involve varying degrees of complexity and careful consideration of each is of the utmost importance. However, I am anxious that there will be no unnecessary delays in carrying out the assessment and following through on any recommended actions. Officials from my Department are currently reviewing the advices received on the cases that have been completed and are preparing submissions recommending appropriate action for me to take.
With regard to the manner in which the Gardaí handle protected disclosures, An Garda Síochána have published a Protected Disclosures Policy and all Garda members and civilians have been informed of this policy. A Protected Disclosures Manager was appointed. An Garda Síochána works with Transparency International Ireland and other external providers to create an environment to ensure that whistleblowers are properly protected and supported. Transparency's “Integrity at Work” pledge was signed by the Garda Commissioner in 2017. The Garda Síochána Code of Ethics includes very strong commitments for each individual member in relation to 'Speaking Up and Reporting Wrongdoing'.
As the Deputy is aware, in 2016 the then Minister requested the Policing Authority to examine and report on the policies and procedures in place in An Garda Síochána to deal with whistle-blowers and whistleblowing. The Authority was also asked to make any recommendations that it considered appropriate in order to ensure that the policies and procedures in place are appropriate and can provide assurance that whistle-blowers can make complaints or allegations in a safe environment where their complaints or allegations are properly investigated. The Policing Authority completed its review and reported in November, 2016. The Report was laid before both Houses in accordance with the Garda Síochána Act 2005.
As I advised the Deputy previously on this matter, An Garda Síochána has provided assurances to my Department that it has consistently, and without exception, encouraged its staff, sworn and unsworn, to disclose any and all wrongdoing.
The Protected Disclosure Policy of An Garda Síochána aims to:
- Encourage workers to feel confident and safe about raising concerns of relevant wrongdoings;
- Provide avenues for workers to make disclosures about relevant wrongdoings; and
- Reassure workers that they will be protected from penalisation, or any threat of penalisation, for making a disclosure in accordance with An Garda Síochána’s Protected Disclosure Policy, which is available on the Garda website.
Garda Authorities have previously committed to ensuring that anyone who brings forward issues or concerns will be listened to and supported whilst also ensuring that the identity of any worker making a protected disclosure in accordance with this policy is protected, save in accordance with Section 16(2) of the Protected Disclosure Act, 2014 which provides exceptions in clearly defined circumstances. These commitments have included that the focus of this process will be on the wrongdoing rather than the person making the disclosure.
Based on the foregoing, I am satisfied that the comprehensive actions taken by this Government to support and protect those, including staff of An Garda Síochána, who make protected disclosures are having a real and positive impact, and will continue to do so into the future.