53. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he has received correspondence from the legal team of a Garda whistleblower in the Athlone district; if his Department has engaged with the legal team; his plans to raise the issues with the acting Garda Commissioner; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51746/17]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): As the Deputy knows, the Protected Disclosures Act was enacted in 2014 to introduce specific protections for whistleblowers. The core provisions in the Act provide for protection from dismissal and other forms of penalisation for the making of a protected disclosure, and for the protection of the identity of persons making disclosures. I am not, therefore, going to discuss the details of any correspondence which I or my Department may have received on behalf of any member of the Garda Síochána alleging Garda wrongdoing. I am sure that the Deputy appreciates that the protection of whistleblowers rightly prioritises the confidentiality of the process, which is central to the efficacy of that process.
However, with that qualification, I can state that I have received correspondence of the kind mentioned in the Deputy's question from the legal representatives of a member of the Gardaí.
My Department has had regular correspondence with the legal representatives concerned, in which it has set out the position regarding the issues raised. In those responses it has been explained that there are certain matters which they have raised that are matters for which I have no responsibility. I have to emphasise this point: I, as Minister, have no authority to direct the Garda Commissioner in matters concerning the control, operation and direction of An Garda Síochána. Nor can I interfere in any investigation undertaken, on being undertaken, by An Garda Síochána. Similarly, certain workplace issues which have also been raised in the correspondence are not matters in which I have authority to act. Again, these are matters for the Garda Commissioner.
This may be difficult for the Deputy to accept but he and others in this House would be quick to point out the flaws in any system which would allow any Minister for Justice to interfere with the role of the Garda Commissioner or to seek to direct the Garda Commissioner how to handle workplace issues or investigations.
While there are matters raised in the correspondence that I cannot involve myself in, I have asked the Garda Commissioner for an up-to-date report. I am aware of the actions taken by my predecessors in this and other such cases. This has included using powers under the Garda Síochána Act to refer matters to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC). As the Deputy is aware GSOC is a statutory independent body and it is not open to me to intervene in, or comment on, their investigations.
I can say that my predecessor gave an undertaking that should the investigations not address all matters of concern, the establishment of an Inquiry would be examined to address the substance of the allegations. That remains the position.
I am of course anxious that any allegations of wrongdoing by members of An Garda Síochána are properly and independently examined. I can assure the Deputy that I am committed to ensuring that persons making disclosures will be supported and protected in the workplace.
There has been significant change in the procedures for members of the Gardaí who wish to report allegations of wrongdoing. In addition to the introduction of the Protected Disclosures Act, the Garda Síochána has been working with Transparency International Ireland and other external providers to improve their procedures.
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. It may be the case that further reforms are necessary to strengthen these protections. In that regard, I understand that a review is underway of the Protected Disclosures Act which may offer the opportunity to consider this issue.
Finally, I want to remind the House of the Public Notice issued last week by the Disclosures Tribunal. Term of reference [p] relates to complaints by members of the Gardaí who had made a protected disclosure prior to 16 February 2017 and who were, as a result, targeted or discredited with the knowledge or acquiescence of senior members of the Garda Síochána. The public notice called on any Garda who has made such a protected disclosure, who has not already done so, to provide a statement to the Tribunal by 18 December. I would urge anyone to whom this applies to accept the Tribunal’s invitation and provide the said statement.