So-called ‘whistleblowers’ who seek to expose wrongdoing in either the public or private sectors will be protected from prosecution under proposals published by Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin today.
The draft heads of the Protected Disclosure in the Public Interest Bill 2012 aim to ensure that workers are protected from reprisals where they disclose information relating to wrongdoing in their workplaces.
It may include, for example, criminal misconduct, corruption, the breach of a legal obligation, risk to health and safety, damage to the environment or gross mismanagement in the public service.
The proposals provide for a ‘stepped’ disclosure regime, making a number of disclosure ‘channels’ available to those who wish to make a protected disclosure. These include internal, regulatory and external channels.
The proposed law seeks to safeguard workers who make such protected disclosures from being subject to “occupational detriment” and also provides immunity against civil and criminal liability in certain circumstances.
It will also make what the Minister said were “significant” remedies to provide redress for workers who suffer detriment as a consequence of having made a
Mr Howlin said a key part of the Government’s commitment to political reform was the planned whistleblower legislation, as set out in the Programme for Government.
“The Heads of Bill published today will provide, for the first time for employees in Ireland, a single overarching framework protecting whistleblowers in a uniform manner in all sectors of the economy.” Mr Howlin said.
“This is a huge advancement from the previous piecemeal approach where the patchwork of protections resulted in a fragmented and confusing standards of protection.”
He said a key element of the proposed legislation was that it treated all parties equally and fairly within an integrated legal framework that is open and transparent.
Mr Howlin said the proposed legislation also highlighted the responsibility of employers to put effective internal mechanisms in place to investigate whistleblowing complaints.
They would also have an obligation to develop an organisational culture that supports whistleblowing as a key element of corporate risk management.
This would identify potential wrongdoing and allow employers to take appropriate corrective action “at the earliest possible stage”, the Minister said.
Anti-corruption group Transparency International Ireland welcomed the proposals.
Chief executive John Devitt said the legislation could be as important as the original Freedom of Information Act in protecting the public interest.
"There are some improvements to be made, but I think we’re on the right track," Mr Devitt said.
He said the new legislation was influenced by whistleblower legislation in the UK and New Zealand, as well as by international principles and research conducted by Transparency and other international organisations.
Transparency Ireland launched Ireland’s first whistleblower and ethics helpline called Speak Up in May 2011.
It said it would use data collected from almost 200 clients to advise the government on how the legislation will work in practice.
It encouraged anyone seeking to report wrongdoing to seek advice from its Speak Up helpline at 1800 844 866. Further information is also available at speakup.ie
Draft Heads of Bill (pdf)
Explanatory Memorandum (pdf)
Information Note (pdf)