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How should TDs and Senators deal with whistleblowers? Here's some advice they got...

A guidance note was issued to all deputies and senators last night in the wake of recent controversies surrounding whistleblowers.

Garda sergeant Maurice McCabe highlighted concerns over penalty points and garda malpractice.
Garda sergeant Maurice McCabe highlighted concerns over penalty points and garda malpractice.
Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

TDS AND SENATORS have been provided with advice from Oireachtas authorities for how to deal with information they receive from whistleblowers in the wake of a number of recent controversies.

The guidance note, prepared by the in-house legal advisor in Leinster House, was sent to all TDs and Senators yesterday evening.

It deals with issues like what members should do if they receive documents from a whistleblower and what privileges they have in disclosing information from a whistleblower in the Dáil or Seanad.

The detailed seven-page note, seen by TheJournal.ie, was prepared by Mellissa English, the parliamentary legal advisor, and is designed to provide an “initial guide” to any member who receives information from a whistleblower.

Whistleblower controversies

The guidance comes following a number of recent controversies around whistleblowers in Ireland.

Two garda whistleblowers, serving sergeant Maurice McCabe and former garda John Wilson, exposed widespread malpractice in the penalty points systems and other garda misconduct after approaching a number of independent TDs.

Though their claims were raised in the Dáil on numerous occasions over the past few years they were initially dismissed by the government, including Justice Minister Alan Shatter who accused McCabe of not cooperating with an internal garda investigation into penalty points.

He later apologised and has since resigned in the wake of a report into allegations of garda malpractice that has resulted in the government establishing of a full Commission of Inquiry.

‘Complex’

The guidance note acknowledges “the complex nature” around the whole area of whisteblowing and cautions that the note does not act as a substitute for legal advice which members are encouraged to seek should an particular situation with a whistleblower arise.

It makes clear that information which may be of material assistance to preventing a crime or prosecuting an offence should be passed to An Garda Siochána.

“Failure to do so as soon as it is practicable may be an offence,” the note states. “Importantly, if any Member at any point has information which meets this test (including if they obtained this information from a whistleblower) they should report it to the Gardaí.”

The guidance note also points out that any Oireachtas committee handling whistleblowers’ allegations should take note of whether information provided is relevant to the committee and its terms of reference, warning of possible court action if a committee acts outside its remit.

While the note also acknowledges that Oireachtas members are protected from legal action over what they say in the Dáil or Seanad – a principle known as parliamentary privilege – it says members must be conscious of “a myriad of enactments” such as disclosure of personal data and the potential to be in breach of data protection law.

Read: The Gardaí ‘did not do enough’ to engage with whistleblowers – Enda Kenny

Read: Whistleblowers have been vital in undercovering secrets in Ireland, says Observer editor

About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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