Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 22 September 2021
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach
General Scheme of the Protected Disclosures (Amendment) Bill 2021: Discussion
I thank the witnesses for coming before the committee today and for their submissions. I am also of the opinion that if a complaint is made, the complainant has a right to have the complaint fully investigated by the appropriate body, whatever that body might be. The protected disclosure in legislation is supposed to give adequate cover to the person making the complaint. Following from this is the idea of a successful outcome to a complaint, which may be different. It may not always be possible to achieve the result desired by the complainant for a variety of reasons.
I accept the right of everybody to criticise politicians and it is par for the course in this business. We get it on a daily basis. We do our best, although we do not always succeed in doing the job we are given. The answer might be if people are not able to do the job, they should get out. I assure the witnesses that in my experience in public life, which has come over a long time, I could identify many people to whom I could make that suggestion but I will not do it.
The volume of queries we receive is unbelievable. For example, over one famous weekend not so long ago, my office received 4,700 submissions. We do our best and even dish them out to different Departments to follow up as the case may be. Generally speaking, we get a response, but with the volume, one can very often be snowed under. This does not take away from the fact that there must be a conclusion. The legislation is supposed to protect the discloser and, insofar as it can be done, achieve a conclusion. As I have said, one cannot determine what that conclusion might be, and this conclusion may not be satisfactory to the complainant.
Many occurrences over the years should not have happened and at various levels in respect of capacities, one has always tried to do one's best to identify and, insofar as it is possible, to address and resolve such matters. It does not always happen this way and one can look back, with the benefit of hindsight, and say that if A, B and C had been done at the time, it might have brought a different outcome. That is true and the human being is subject to the usual human frailties. I am not making excuses for failures to do the job that needs to be done but I am attempting to point out the magnitude of the problem and that difficulties may arise that are not immediately evident.
The Chairman and the rest of us on the committee know we have had countless complaints relating to banking and bankers, etc. I am sure there have been complaints in other departments over the past number of years. One follows them up as best one can, although one does not always achieve a result that one expects or perhaps feels should be the outcome. It takes a significant length of time for this to happen. We do not have unlimited offices or personnel to scale or scope our work. We do the best we can in the circumstances, although that may not always suffice. I am not making excuses but we do our best. I would not like this discussion to pass with the idea going unchallenged that the reason for all of this is corrupt politicians and that there will be no change as long as there are such people.
I am sure I speak for the majority of people in the House when I say nobody sets out to avoid statutory responsibilities, and nor should people do that. I hope that idea continues. It follows that there may be swings and roundabouts, leading to slippages, and matters may fall between stools, as the saying goes, because of insufficient or inadequate care and attention.
I and, I am sure, everybody else have dealt with cases in the past where after looking at a position, we have had to explain to a complainant or complainants that in the circumstances and having regard to what has transpired, there are limits to what can be achieved. Nobody wants to hear that but it happens often. This may not be of any great help to the complainant but it might be of some help in allowing people understand that at least information is given to the person concerned at the time. Otherwise, we could all mislead people and bring them down the road into a cul-de-sac. I am not in favour of doing that. I am in favour of checking everything. We can do that through parliamentary questions, which is the ultimate way of dealing with a query that comes to us. It is up to those who are responsible in the various Departments to take it from there and follow up the query.