Legislation comes after six year campaign for universal charter
Dublin, 3 July 2013
Transparency International Ireland (TI Ireland) has welcomed the publication of the Protected Disclosures Bill 2013 today. The Bill will for the first time offer legal protections for workers in Ireland who report concerns about wrongdoing in the public, private and non-profit sectors.
Since 2007, TI Ireland has highlighted the absence of blanket safeguards for whistleblowers as a reason for low levels of reporting in Irish banks, the health service and public bodies. It is now hoped that the safeguards will help create a safer environment in which workers can report wrongdoing and a way for employers and regulators to act on information quickly.
‘This could be a hugely important step in the fight against corruption and promotion of good governance in Ireland. With almost half of all cases of fraud and other forms of wrongdoing exposed by whistleblowers, it’s time that they enjoy the protection of the law for acting in the public interest’, said John Devitt, Chief Executive of TI Ireland.
‘This legislation will be good for workers, employers and the public. It’s too late to undo the damage done by alleged fraud and recklessness in our banks, but it should help expose future wrongdoing before it spirals out of control’, Mr Devitt added.
TI Ireland has operated Ireland’s only free-phone ‘Speak Up’ helpline for whistleblowers and citizens reporting wrongdoing since 2011. Anonymous data and cases from the helpline and the experience of whistleblowers in the US and UK informed some of the provisions contained in the Bill.
Workers who honestly report concerns about wrongdoing will be entitled to seek redress for unfair dismissal as well as discrimination or harassment. Family members and colleagues of whistleblowers may also take legal action for any retaliation suffered by them as a result of a protected disclosure.
The Bill provides for a ‘stepped disclosure’ system that encourages workers who have information to report to their management or employer. However, where there is a reasonable belief that information will be covered up or they believe that they will be victims of retaliation, they will be entitled to report to the authorities, a T.D. or the media – though members of the Gardaí and Defence Forces will not be allowed to report directly to the press.
All public bodies will be required to put in place whistleblower policies, while private sector employers will be encouraged to implement similar measures with guidance from the Labour Relations Commission.
The legislation has been published by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform after Minister Brendan Howlin opened a public consultation last year on proposals. TI Ireland has been advising the Department on the text of the draft Bill and will be making further submissions to improve the legislation as it goes through the Oireachtas.
The Bill’s provisions include:
- Compensation for unfair dismissal arising from a protected disclosure has increased from two years to a maximum of five years remuneration.
- Workers in most categories, including contractors and trainees will be entitled to protection from ‘day one’ under the Bill.
- A wide definition of wrongdoings is included in the Bill. This includes gross negligence and failure to perform a legal duty.
- The motivation of a whistleblower will be irrelevant for the purposes of making a protected disclosure. Making a protected disclosure or reasonably believing a disclosure is protected is a defence to any offence prohibiting or restricting the disclosure of information.
- The protections remain available if the information disclosed on examination does not reveal wrongdoing. Deliberate false reporting will not meet the reasonable belief test and is not protected.
- Whistleblowers will benefit from civil immunity from actions for damages and a qualified privilege under defamation law.
Contact John Devitt for comment or interview at 01 871 9433