Wednesday, 28 September 2016
Department of Justice and Equality
82. To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality the steps she has taken to deal with allegations that have been repeatedly brought to her attention that gardaí who have made protected disclosures have been the subject of sustained bullying and harassment by Garda management. [27429/16]
As I have advised the Deputy previously, there has been significant change in the procedures for members of the Gardaí who wish to report allegations of wrongdoing.
The Protected Disclosures 2014 Act was part of the then Government's comprehensive approach to enhancing the protections available to whistleblowers, including members of the Garda Síochána. Under the Act, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) is now the prescribed body authorised to receive protected disclosures on Garda matters.
Accordingly, members of the Garda Síochána may communicate their concerns to the Garda Commissioner, as their employer if they so choose, or they may make a disclosure directly to GSOC. Where a protected disclosure is made to GSOC the Act provides that GSOC may, if it appears to it desirable in the public interest to do so, investigate the disclosure.
It is important to recognise the very significant fact that a member of the Gardaí who makes a disclosure in accordance with the Act is entitled to all the protections provided for whistleblowers in the Act. These protections include protection from having their identity revealed, protection from dismissal and protection from being penalised in their employment as a result of having made a protected disclosure.
In light of the public interest in An Garda Síochána having robust policies and procedures in place to support and protect whistleblowers and to ensure that their complaints/allegations are fully investigated, I signalled during the Dáil debate on the O'Higgins Report that I would refer certain matters to the independent Policing Authority. To that end, I wrote to the Authority on 2 June 2016 requesting that in accordance with section 62O(6) of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 (as amended) they submit a report on the policies and procedures in place in An Garda Síochána to deal with whistleblowers/whistleblowing. I also asked that they make any recommendations that they consider appropriate in order to ensure that the policies and procedures in place are appropriate and can provide assurance that whistleblowers can make complaints/allegations in a safe environment where their complaints/allegations are properly investigated.
The Deputy is also no doubt aware of the measures that the Garda Commissioner outlined at her meeting on 13 June, 2016 with the Policing Authority. The Garda Síochána have published their Protected Disclosures Policy and all Garda Members and civilians have been informed of this policy. In addition the Garda Commissioner has appointed a Protected Disclosures Manager who will be supported with a dedicated and properly trained team. The Garda Síochána have been working with Transparency International Ireland and other external providers to create an environment to ensure that whistleblowers are protected and supported.
The Garda Commissioner is committed to providing a positive and supportive working environment for all Garda personnel. An Garda Síochána's Dignity at Work Policy, entitled “Working Together to Create a Positive Working Environment, outlines the policy and procedures for dealing with Harassment, Sexual Harassment and Bullying in the Workplace. The main objective of the policy is to achieve a safe and harmonious working environment that encourages and supports the right to dignity at work. I am informed that the Commissioner has established an internal Garda Working Group to review the current practice and policies in place in An Garda Síochána and this work is currently ongoing.
While all of this points to significant changes in the regime for making protected disclosures by members of the Gardaí and the significant protections afforded to those who make protected disclosures, the House will appreciate that I will consider very carefully the report from the Policing Authority when it is available.