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Opening address by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan at the Integrity at Work conference
28 September 2017
Good morning everyone. As Minister for Justice and Equality, I am very pleased to be here this morning to open the 2017 Integrity at Work Conference.
This conference, organised by Transparency International Ireland, is the first to bring together employers, legal practitioners, academics and civil society to discuss how to foster a culture of integrity within Irish workplaces. The overall mission of the Integrity at Work programme is to promote positive cultural change in Irish workplaces.
Since its establishment as the Irish Chapter of Transparency International in 2004, Transparency International (TI) Ireland is part of the only global organisation dedicated to stopping corruption worldwide, working to create a "level playing field" for citizens, for business, for everyone. Its vision is an Ireland that is open and fair – and where entrusted power is used in the interest of everyone. TI Ireland’s mission is to empower people with the support they need to promote integrity and stop corruption in all its forms. As part of this vision, in May 2011, TI Ireland launched its 'Speak Up’ helpline, a service for anyone facing an ethical dilemma or considering reporting wrongdoing at work.
Your theme for the day is “Speaking up Safely”. Perhaps that is something that we take for granted in a democratic society; but we must remember that it requires courage for us to speak up when we identify a wrong and it is necessary to have supports and protections in place for those who do. Today, you will explore how law, policy and practice work together in helping employers understand what they need to do to help their staff to speak up safely. You will be presented with an opportunity to pose questions, share experiences and learn from your peers and international experts on whistleblowing and whistleblower protection.
The introduction of the Protected Disclosures Act in 2014 was an important legislative step in formalising the support for workers who perceive wrongdoing. The Act provides detailed and comprehensive statutory protections for workers in both the public and private sectors against penalisation by their employers in circumstances where they have raised concerns about potential serious wrongdoing in accordance with the requirements set out in the Act.
The legislation met the commitment in the Programme for Government 2011-2016 to introduce whistleblower legislation and addressed the recommendation contained in the Final Report of the Mahon Tribunal advocating the introduction of pan-sectoral legislation for whistleblower protection. It incorporates many of the recommendations in relation to whistleblower protection legislation made by international bodies such as G20, the OECD, the Council of Europe and Transparency International, and is consistent with best international standards of whistleblower protection.
Since its enactment, the Protected Disclosures Act has been acknowledged as setting a benchmark internationally in promoting and supporting the role of whistleblowing in relation to anti-corruption measures.
The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform last month launched a formal review of the legislation under 13 separate headings ranging from whether the Act is operating effectively; the usefulness of the definitions and interpretations; to the protections provided to all parties concerned. I would encourage as many as possible to feed into the public consultation process which I understand will remain open up to 10th October.
I know that Transparency International Ireland has supported the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in advising on guidance/best practice in terms of implementation of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014. Together, at this time last year, they launched two initiatives: the Transparency Legal Advice Centre (TLAC) to support whistleblowers/ employees and the Integrity at Work (IAW) programme to increase awareness of Protected Disclosures Act among organisations.
So, what is the Integrity at Work initiative? Transparency International Ireland recognised that the new legislation placed added responsibility on organisations and those in positions of authority in business, government and the non-profit sector.
While this might be viewed as a challenge for some employers, it can also be seen as an opportunity to restore trust, prevent financial losses arising from white collar crime, promote public health and safety and protect the environment.
Integrity At Work offers the chance to learn about legal developments, strategies to promote ethical standards as well as legal compliance, and ways to restore trust among stakeholders.
This initiative will help make the availability of advice on protected disclosures known to all workers in Ireland for the first time. In doing so, it will help ensure that workers make informed decisions before they report their concerns and have the support they need when they speak up.
Those of you that are already members of the programme know that it provides for access to the Integrity at Work guide, staff information material and training; direct TI Ireland support to implement policies together with an annual review of the Protected Disclosures process in your organisation, twice yearly forums in additional to this Integrity at Work annual conference. Most importantly perhaps, in consideration of today’s theme, membership serves to highlight access to the Speak up helpline for each of your workers. All workers can avail of free advice via this helpline both in considering whether a concern qualifies as a Protected Disclosure and subsequent to making a report.
So I’m sure you will agree that the work of bodies such as Transparency International Ireland is vital for all workers in supporting them in speaking up safely.
Specifically in the Justice sector, I am pleased to say that my own Department has supported Transparency International Ireland in its work. This engagement will ensure that Justice sector organisations have a common approach to, as well as support and assurance around, their implementation of Protected Disclosure policies. To date, the Department and 16 of its associated agencies have joined the Integrity at Work programme and taken the Integrity at Work pledge. In taking that pledge, the Department has committed to “not penalising, or permitting penalisation against, a worker who reports risks or incidents of wrongdoing and to responding to or acting upon those concerns”.
Within the Sector, the Protected Disclosures Policies are supported by a Justice & Equality Sector Protected Disclosures Network whose objectives are
To standardise documents and procedures in so far as is practicable across the Sector
To share knowledge, e.g. case law, advices received, investigative procedures etc.
To share experiences, e.g. of a review process
To develop a collaborate approach to training and awareness raising across the Sector.
However, it is important to point out that in respecting the confidentiality of the process, this Network has acknowledged that it has no role in sharing details of disclosures received and cases can only be discussed in the broadest terms if there is a learning point to be obtained.
Of course, I cannot talk to you about Protected Disclosures and whistleblower protections without acknowledging the work of Mr Justice Charlton, who is currently chairing the Disclosures Tribunal.
The Terms of Reference for the Tribunal of Inquiry are comprehensive and clear in their focus. The Tribunal will get to the truth. That is in the interests of whistleblowers, it is in the interests of members of An Garda Síochána, particularly those against whom allegations have been made, and it is in the public interest. The issue of how whistleblowers in An Garda Síochána have been treated is being examined independently, fairly and publicly.
In advance of the establishment of the Tribunal earlier this year, my predecessor asked the Policing Authority to examine and report on the policies and procedures in place in An Garda Síochána to deal with whistleblowers/whistleblowing. The Policing Authority completed its review and reported in November, 2016 and the Garda Commissioner has since published a revised policy document as result of the Report. The Commissioner committed to providing an environment in which protected disclosures can be made in full knowledge that persons making such disclosures will be supported and protected in the workplace.
Equally, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) has a hugely important role in ensuring that public confidence in An Garda Síochána is safeguarded. It has extensive powers under the Garda Síochána Act 2005 to enable it to carry out its responsibilities. Since its establishment, there have been calls at different times for changes to the 2005 Act to improve the efficiency of GSOC's operations or increase its powers.
The Garda Síochána (Amendment) Act 2015 gave it the power to investigate complaints against the Garda Commissioner. My Department is working closely with GSOC in considering draft amendments to the Garda Síochána Act 2005 to further strengthen its powers to investigate complaints. It is possible also that the Commission on the Future of Policing may make recommendations which require further legislative changes.
Furthermore, GSOC is now a designated body for receiving protected disclosures under the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 and is in the process of establishing a dedicated unit to deal with such Disclosures.
I must reiterate that, as Minister for Justice and Equality, I am committed to ensuring that we have the most effective possible mechanisms for addressing complaints across the Justice sector.
I see that you have a full programme for the day with a panel discussion and a number of workshops. Please make the most of the knowledge shared here today to answer the key questions posed under the theme of Speaking up Safely:
What does the Act mean for your organisation and you as an individual
What are the best practices in whistleblowing policies and procedures
What action should your organisation take after a protected disclosure has been made and
How do you encourage your staff to report concerns of wrongdoing?
It is good to remember that you are not alone in facing these questions and the network of shared experiences here today will provide reassurance on that.
I would like to acknowledge your keynote speaker, Ms Emily O’Reilly, who has had a distinguished career both in private and public service and served for 10 years as Ombudsman here, before being appointed to her current role as European Ombudsman. I would also like to acknowledge the time and commitment of all your speakers today who are contributing as panel members or workshop speakers. They have, in some instances, travelled from abroad and all have kindly agreed to share their expertise and experience with you.
I would like to particularly thank John Devitt and the team at Transparency International Ireland for inviting me to open this event. TI Ireland's members and staff care deeply about our country's international reputation, fairness in society, the health of our democracy and the future of Irish business.
I would also like to thank all the organisations present who have taken the Integrity at Work pledge, thereby making a public commitment to support their staff in raising concerns regarding wrongdoing. This embeds a high standard of integrity and transparency in your workplaces.
I am sorry that other commitments mean I cannot remain to hear some of the speakers here today. I wish you all a very productive and engaging conference.