Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 16 December 2020
Public Accounts Committee
Business of Committee
I thank the Chairman for the opportunity. Last week, we had the pleasure of meeting officials from the Department of Justice and the Prison Service to raise a number of issues. There is one issue that I had raised at our very first meeting as part of the main reason to bring them in I refer to the fact that following the meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts on 17 January 2019 I had raised the issue of an alleged sexual assault against an agency nurse working in the Prison Service. I understood from Mr. Don Culliton, who represented the Prison Service last January and again last week, that they would look into the matter. Since then, the person in question has taken a case to the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, and there has been a ruling. The Committee of Public Accounts and the relevant Deputy, although not named but it was me, were named in the judgment. It was found that as a direct result of the case being mentioned at our meeting on 17 January 2019 the person had all of their shifts cancelled so had to find alternative work and as a result was granted an award that is a matter of public record. Naturally, when the Committee of Public Accounts came together first, I said that we should want to raise the matter. While I appreciate Standing Order 218, which seeks to reaffirm historic limitations without any leeway, the Prison Service and the Department should have been in the invitation to last week's meeting under notice that we were going to raise that matter. It is shocking that a court ruled that as a direct result of something being raised here, and a matter so serious as a sexual assault, would lead to somebody in the judge's opinion losing their job and getting compensation, appropriately.
Now it seems that the State is appealing the case. The nature of how it was dealt with last week by the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and the Prison Service was appalling. It was totally unfair to the committee and totally unfair to the victim. The Accounting Officer for the Department of Justice owes an explanation to this committee as to what their position is on having been found to be liable for taking action against somebody because a matter was raised at this meeting. These are not my words. That was the judgment.
Last week, we were stonewalled. I think I used the phrase "How people like Maurice McCabe ever managed to get justice is beyond me" because if somebody in the Prison Service came to me with a complaint today I would genuinely advise them not to issue a protective disclosure, not to make a complaint and not to have it raised at a meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts because other apparatus in the State will move directly to throw them under the bus. While I appreciate that I can be abrupt and robust in my questioning, which is unnerving for people and is probably unseemly to watch but it was necessary. I am appalled at what took place at last week's meeting with the Department of Justice and the Prison Service because we were merely making up the numbers. It was a total waste of taxpayers' money considering the lack of candour, directness and basic respect shown to what is the only constitutional committee in the Oireachtas.