“This Bill will protect whistleblowers who speak out against wrongdoing, or cover-ups, whether in public or the private sector” – Howlin

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin, T.D., has published the Draft Heads of the Protected Disclosure in the Public Interest Bill 2012. On welcoming the publication Minister Howlin stated “This Government is committed to a significant political reform agenda. A key part of this as set out in the programme for Government is our commitment to legislate to protect Whistleblowers who speak out against wrongdoing, or cover-ups, whether in public or the private sector.  This could encompass, 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 Heads of Bill published today will provide, for the first time for employees inIreland, a single overarching framework protecting whistleblowers in a uniform manner in all sectors of the economy. This is a huge advancement from the previous piecemeal approach where the patchwork of protections resulted in a fragmented and confusing standards of protection. A key element of the proposed legislation is that it treats all parties equally and fairly within an integrated legal framework that is open and transparent.

I am publishing the heads of Bill today to inform public debate on the measures and it is my intention to publish the Protected Disclosure in the Public Interest Bill 2012 in the second quarter of this year.”

In summary the legislative proposals (i.e. Draft Heads of a Bill) published today:-

have as their main objective ensuring the protection of workers in all sectors of the economy (i.e. public and private) against reprisals in circumstances that they make a disclosure of information relating to wrongdoing which comes to their attention in the workplace;

provide for a “stepped” disclosure regime in which a number of distinct disclosure channels are available – internal, “regulatory” and external – and through which the worker can, subject to  different evidential thresholds, make a protected disclosure;

seek to safeguard a worker who has made a protected disclosure from being subject to occupational detriment also providing immunity against civil liability and criminal liability in certain circumstances;

make available certain significant remedies providing redress for workers who suffer detriment as a consequence of having made a protected disclosure;

confer “protected disclosure” status on disclosures made under existing sectoral whistleblowing legislation to ensure, as much as possible, a uniform standard of protection.

In addition, the proposed legislation highlights the responsibility of employers, to put effective internal mechanisms in place to investigate whistleblowing complaints and to develop an organisational culture that supports whistleblowing as a key element of corporate risk management overall, in order to identify potential wrongdoing and take appropriate corrective action at the earliest possible stage.