Dublin, 21 July 2022
Transparency International (TI) Ireland has welcomed the signing into law today of the Protected Disclosures (Amendment) Act 2022. The new legislation will strengthen existing whistleblowing safeguards in some areas, extend whistleblowing protections to volunteers and shareholders, while also imposing new obligations on private sector and charity employers with more than 50 staff.
‘Many of the new measures included in this Act should help create a more welcoming environment for whistleblowers in Ireland but it’s too soon to say what impact some of the reforms will have. Much will depend on how employers and policy makers implement some of the more ambiguous details of the law’, said John Devitt, Chief Executive of TI Ireland
TI Ireland raised concerns over potentially regressive measures under the new legislation which could weaken existing safeguards by requiring public servants to report directly to their employer before reporting to a government minister and by creating new criminal penalties for knowingly false reports.
‘We could see cases coming before the courts where rights that were previously provided for in the 2014 Act have since been curtailed by the new legislation. Overall, however, this Act strengthens what were already relatively strong safeguards for whistleblowers’, Mr Devitt added.
In addition to extending protections to volunteers and shareholders, the Act will widen the definition of a detriment and reverse the burden of proof on employers to show that they had not penalised or allowed anyone to penalise a worker for making a protected disclosure. It will also create new criminal penalties for anyone penalising a whistleblower in certain circumstances, hindering a protected disclosure or failing to establish internal whistleblowing channels.
The amended legislation will also require employers to acknowledge and provide feedback to whistleblowers on action taken in response to disclosures within defined periods (seven days and three months, respectively) and employers with more than 50 employees will be required to establish internal channels to allow for ‘diligent follow-up’ on reports.
A ministerial commencement order will be required to formally establish the Office of the Protected Disclosures Commissioner which will be hosted in the Office of the Ombudsman. The Commission will assess protected disclosures made to it and will refer disclosures to the appropriate authority or oversee investigations into them.
TI Ireland operates a national whistleblowing ‘Speak Up’ helpline and established the Transparency Legal Advice Centre to provide free legal advice to workers in 2016. It will also publish new whistleblowing guidance and launch a new psychological support service in late 2022.
The Protected Disclosures Amendment Act 2022 has been passed to transpose a European ‘Whistleblowing’ Directive which was published in 2019 and will apply to all EU Member States. TI Ireland advised the European Commission on the draft outline of the Directive in 2017 and had campaigned and advised the Irish Government on the Protected Disclosures Act 2014.
TI Ireland has provided advice and support to over 2,000 clients since it established the Speak Up Helpline in 2011. Its partner, the Transparency Legal Advice Centre has offered free legal advice valued at over €1 million to Irish whistleblowers since 2016.
TI Ireland also coordinates the Integrity at Work programme supporting 36 employers including An Garda Síochána, Trócaire and the Department of Education in addressing wrongdoing and promoting safe working environments for whistleblowers.
The Speak Up Helpline is open Monday to Friday, 10am to 6pm and can be contacted at 1800 844 866. More information, guidance and contact details are available at www.speakup.ie.