480. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the process he has engaged in by which a panel of barristers is evaluating allegations of corruption in protected disclosures by serving and former gardaí; the number of such cases; the process to appoint the barristers; the terms of reference; if permission has been sought from An Garda Síochána in relation to its willingness to participate; and the relationship between this process and the Disclosures Tribunal. [1556/19]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Under the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 a protected disclosure refers to the disclosure of relevant information which, inter alia, tends to show one or more relevant wrongdoings, including commission of an offence or failing to comply with a legal obligation. As the Deputy will appreciate, not all protected disclosures involve allegations of corruption. It is not necessary for a person to cite the 2014 Act in order for correspondence to be a protected disclosure. An organisation in receipt of correspondence makes an assessment under the 2014 Act to determine if it should be treated as a protected disclosure.
The Act allows members of An Garda Síochána to make a protected disclosure to one or more of a number of persons, including to the Minister of the day. Since 2014, my Department has received 24 letters from current or former members or employees of An Garda Síochána in relation to matters which might be regarded as a protected disclosure. The Deputy will be aware that in 2016 my predecessor referred two of these disclosures for assessment by a retired High Court Judge and this resulted in the Government setting up the Disclosures Tribunal.
I have, in consultation with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Attorney General, established a panel of counsel to assess disclosures made to me by members or former members of An Garda Síochána. The panel is to provide independent advice to my Department on how each case should be treated and the panel has recently commenced this work.
In order to ensure an independent assessment of these matters, counsel have been instructed to assess all relevant documentation relating to the allegations, without prejudice, and to make whatever recommendations they see fit.
There is no timeframe specified in the Act for the assessment of protected disclosures. The Deputy will appreciate that, by their very nature, this correspondence may involve varying degrees of complexity and careful consideration of each is of the utmost importance. However, I am anxious that there will be no unnecessary delays in carrying out the assessment and following through on any recommended actions.
As the Deputy will appreciate, the preservation of anonymity is paramount to ensuring the process is maintained in such a manner that those who wish to bring forward concerns may do so in good faith and without any fear of retribution. As has been advised to those whose cases have been referred to the panel, this process is not intended to act as an investigative tool but rather a mechanism whereby my Department can receive independent advice regarding the most appropriate manner in which to deal with the concerns outlined. On this basis, the question of An Garda Síochána participating in this process does not arise. My officials have, however, sought the permission of the person who made the disclosure to refer it to the panel.
Finally, I can assure the Deputy that this panel is not intended to interfere in any way with the work of the Disclosures Tribunal. Question No. 481 answered with Question No. 393.