Encourage, Protect and Raise Awareness of Whistleblower Duties and Protections (IE0015)
Action Plan: Ireland, First Action Plan, 2014-16
Action Plan Cycle: 2014
Lead Institution: Department of Public Expenditure & Reform
Support Institution(s): Trade unions, relevant civil society organisations and employer representative bodies involved.
Policy AreasAnti Corruption and Integrity, Public Participation, Whistleblower Protections
Communicate and increase awareness of the role of whistleblowing, the proper treatment of whistleblowers and the availability of whistleblowing protection consistent with the Protected Disclosures legislation.
IRM End of Term Status Summary
(✪) 3.5: Whistleblower Duties and Protections
Action 3.5 - Communicate and increase awareness of the role of whistleblowing, the proper treatment of whistleblowers and the availability of whistleblowing protection consistent with the Protected Disclosures legislation
Responsible institution: Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER)
Supporting institution(s): Trade Unions, relevant CSOs and employer representative bodies
Start date: July 2014 End date: December 2014
Editorial note: Commitment 3.5 is clearly relevant to OGP values as written, has transformative potential impact, and is substantially or completely implemented and therefore qualifies as a starred commitment.
Protected Disclosures legislation (or Whistleblowing legislation), as outlined in this commitment, provides a regulatory framework in which workers can raise concerns about potential wrongdoings in the workplace, knowing that they can be protected if they are penalized by their employer for whisteblowing. Such a comprehensive legal framework had not been fully put into place until the action plan. This Action thus relates to solving the problem of unfair penalization by developing whistleblower legislation in order to protect public and private workers in Ireland and subsequently raising the awareness of whistleblower duties and protections.
Before OGP participation, in 2012, the Irish government was working on developing whistleblower legislation, which was part of its 2011 Programme for Government. In July 2013, and at the same time the first action plan consultations were taking place, the Protected Disclsores Bill was launched. For the first time, a comprehensive bill was developed in Ireland to protect workers from all sectors of the economy who reported concerns about potential wrongdoings happening in the workplace. The Protected Disclosures Act was completed in year one of the action plan.
This Act, heavily influenced by civil society actors, is today considered to be one of the most robust pieces of legislation in the world on the theme, as discussed in full in the IRM midterm report. Since July 2014, the government has conducted awareness raising of the legislation in two ways. First, state actors notified employers and employees of whistleblowing legislation, providing guidance on key themes, such as what is meant by a protected disclosure, what matters can be reported on, who is protected, and how does a worker report concerns. Second, there was extensive media coverage on the protection gained by workers with the new whistleblowers legislation,[Note 50: See The Irish Times report of November 24, 2015, http://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/whistleblowers-enjoy-layers-of-protection-under-act-1.2010529 (last accessed September 18, 2016)] as well as Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin, making keynote addresses on the issue, such as to the Irish Whistleblowing Law Society Inaugaral Event on July 2015.[Note 51: Minister Howlin’s speech to the Irish Whistleblowing Law Society was entitled ‘Protected Disclosures: the Legislation One Year on,’ held on 14th July 2015. Further information on this event can be found on: http://www.lawlibrary.ie/News/Bar-Council-hosts-Irish-Whistleblowing-Law-Society.aspx (last accessed September 15, 2015)]
Although the commitment was completed in year one of the action plan, year two has seen important supplementary initiatives taken by the state related to this commitment as seen in government self-assessment and in discussion with civil society actors. These include further public consultations offering guidance on the act (Q3, 2015), and securing funding of EUR 300,000 to be allocated to Transparency International, with the aim of raising public awareness on the issue and to provide free and independent legal advice to those considering making a protected disclosure.
Did it open government?
Civic participation: Outstanding
Public accountability: Outstanding
The new legislation broke a historical barrier in Ireland where exployees were reluctant to speak up against wrongdoing in the workplace.[Note 52: See page 14 of the article by L. Kierans: http://www.cpaireland.ie/docs/default-source/Members/Publications/a-whistle-stop-tour-of-the-protected-disclosures-act-2014.pdf?sfvrsn=2 ] A Transparency International Ireland report of 2011 pointed out that Ireland’s sectoral approach to whistleblowing had many shortcomings.[Note 53: An Alternative to Silence, Transparency International Ireland Report 2011 http://transparency.ie/sites/default/files/2010_Alternative_to_Silence_Ireland_v1.pdf] With the new law, Ireland’s legislation is amongst the most comprehensive when compared to other EU countries.[Note 54: https://www.eurofound.europa.eu/observatories/eurwork/articles/law-and-regulation/new-developments-in-the-protection-of-whistle-blowers-in-the-workplace] It poses outstanding changes to public accountability, on two main fronts. First, given the broad nature of the legislation, it now regulates wrongdoings in both the public and the private workforce. Its overarching scope empowers all working citizens to report wrongdoing, with protections not limited to specific sectors of public service. Secondly, because the commitment has shed light not only on politics in Ireland, in general, but also workplace politics, citizens now have improved opportunities to influence decisions that affect them. It is still early, but the IRM found at least one case of the Act being used outside the sectoral scope whistleblowing legislation had prior to its approval, with a whistleblower who “has made allegations of financial mismanagement in the University of Limerick.”[Note 55: On this see: http://bit.ly/1K7ciAU] The Act has also set in place redress mechanisms for employers that have been dismissed or penalised for reporting wrongdoing in the workplace.[Note 56: http://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/employment/enforcement_and_redress/protection_for_whistleblowers.html and http://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/employment/unemployment_and_redundancy/dismissal/unfair_dismissal.html] Organizations like Transparency International Ireland have commited to continue close monitoring of the implementation of the Act as it continues to be rolled out. In collaboration with the government, through the Minister of Public Expenditure and Reform, they launched an initiative in September 2016 to provide training, guidance, expert advice and online resources to promote safe environments for anyone reporting wrongdoing.[Note 57: Integrity at Work http://transparency.ie/integrity-work]
This commitment is complete and was not carried forward into the next action plan. Implementation is ongoing as expected and the IRM researcher does not see a need to include it in further action plans.