This important legislation provides for a comprehensive overhaul of the statutory framework for the protection of whistleblowers in Ireland and for the transposition of the EU Directive 2019/1937 on the protection of persons who report breaches of Union law.
The Bill amends the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 and provides for a significant expansion of its personal scope to include protections for volunteers, shareholders, board members and job applicants for the first time.
The Bill also requires that private sector organisations with 50 or more employees will be required to establish formal channels and procedures for their employees to make protected disclosures, as is currently the case in the public sector. This will be monitored and enforced by the Inspectorate of the Workplace Relations Commission . Employers and prescribed persons will be required to acknowledge, follow-up and give feedback in respect of all reports received through these channels.
A new Office of the Protected Disclosures Commissioner will be established in the Office of the Ombudsman to support the operation of the new legislation. The Commissioner will direct protected disclosures to the most appropriate body when it is unclear which body is responsible. This will ensure that all protected disclosures will be dealt with appropriately. The Commissioner will also take on responsibility for transmitting all protected disclosures sent to Ministers of the Government to the most appropriate authority for assessment and thorough follow up.
Protections for workers will be strengthened through reversal of the burden of proof in civil proceedings concerning allegations of retaliation against whistleblowers; expansion of interim relief measures to include acts of retaliation beyond dismissal; and criminal penalties for acts of retaliation.
The Minister for Public Expenditure & Reform, Mr Michael McGrath, TD, said:
“The passage of this Bill is a significant and welcome step forward for the protection of whistleblowers. This law strengthens whistleblower protections and extends the application of the Protected Disclosures regime to new groups of people across Irish society. We know that whistleblowers play a critical role in highlighting wrongdoing and ensuring the public interest is upheld.
“The enactment of this law fulfils our commitment in the Programme for Government to update and reform the Protected Disclosures Act in light of the EU Directive to ensure it remains as effective as possible. The Bill is just one of a suite of measures I am bringing forward in this area. We are also overhauling the legislation in the areas of Lobbying and Ethics and we will see significant progress in these areas after the summer recess.
“This is a complex piece of legislation and I want to commend officials in my Department for their hard work. I also want to acknowledge the role of my Oireachtas colleagues in the Seanad and the Dáil for their input and cooperation on this important legislation.”
With enactment of the legislation, the new Office of the Protected Disclosures Commissioner will be established and will commence operations later this year. The Minister will also issue updated statutory guidance for public bodies on the operation of the legislation. Further information will be made available in the coming weeks on the Department’s website to raise awareness of the requirements of the new legislation and support people, businesses and public bodies in their understanding of the rights and obligations of the new legislative framework.