59. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to bring forward changes to the manner in which Garda protected disclosures are dealt with; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4381/19]


Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Under the Protected Disclosures Act introduced by the then Government in 2014, members of An Garda Síochána may communicate their concerns to the Garda Commissioner, as their employer if they so choose, or they may make a disclosure to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC), which is a statutorily independent body, for investigation.  The legislation also allows that an individual employed by a public body may also make a Protected Disclosure to the Minister with responsibility for that body; in the case of An Garda Síochána, that is the Minister for Justice and Equality.
It might be helpful if I outline briefly the manner in which protected disclosures made to me by members or former members of An Garda Síochána are handled in my Department. 
In the first instance, the correspondence is assessed to determine whether it constitutes a Protected Disclosure under the Act.  Second, consideration is given to what action is required by me as Minister.  Depending on the individual case, actions may include seeking a Garda report from the Garda Commissioner (having first confirmed that the individual is agreeable to that course of action); referring matters to GSOC under powers available to me as Minister under the Garda Síochána Act 2005; or referring matters to an external body or person for review.
In December 2018, in consultation with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Attorney General, I established a panel of counsel to assess disclosures made to me by members or former members of An Garda Síochána.  The purpose of the panel is to provide independent advice to my Department on how each case should be treated.  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 issue.  However, I am anxious that there will be no unnecessary delays in carrying out the assessment and following through on any recommended actions.
With regard to the handling of disclosures by An Garda Síochána, the Deputy may be aware that the Garda Síochána have published a Protected Disclosures Policy and all Garda members and Garda staff have been informed of this policy.  A Protected Disclosures Manager was appointed.  An Garda Síochána works with Transparency International Ireland and other external providers to create an environment to ensure that whistleblowers are properly protected and supported.  Transparency's “Integrity at Work” pledge was signed by the Garda Commissioner in 2017.  The Garda Síochána Code of Ethics includes very strong commitments for each individual member in relation to 'Speaking Up and Reporting Wrongdoing'.
The Garda authorities have previously committed to ensuring that anyone who brings forward issues or concerns will be listened to and supported whilst also ensuring that the identity of any worker making a protected disclosure in accordance with this policy is protected, save in accordance with Section 16(2) of the Protected Disclosure Act, 2014 which provides exceptions in clearly defined circumstances.  These commitments have included that the focus of this process will be on the wrongdoing rather than the person making the disclosure.
The policy is a standing item on the agenda for Governance meetings between my Department and the Garda Commissioner at which assurance is provided in relation to the operation of the policy.
The Deputy may be aware that a review of the 2014 Act was completed by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in July 2018 which concluded that no legislative amendments should be made at this time, but noted that the EU Directive on whistleblowing which is currently being negotiated is expected to result in amendments to the Act in the context of its transposition.
However, while no legislative changes are currently being considered, my Department is actively engaging in a process of review initiated by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform concerning the policies and procedures presently in place governing disclosures.  Any changes resulting from this review will be applied to protected disclosures made by members of An Garda Síochána.