GSOC investigated 49 whistleblower complaints last year

The caseload of whistleblower complaints requiring investigation by the Garda Ombudsman doubled last year.

Figures published by GSOC show that it received 24 protected disclosures in 2018, compared to 22 in 2017.

These numbers were a major surge on previous years, with GSOC receiving nine cases in 2016 and four cases over 2014 and 2015.

The influx of cases last year meant it had a total of 49 investigations to deal with. GSOC said that 13 were discontinued for various reasons during the year – leaving it with 36 ongoing investigations at the end of 2018.

Sinn Féin justice spokesman Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire
Sinn Féin justice spokesman Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

The statistics prompted concerns from Sinn Féin at the watchdog's ability to investigate the cases.

Sinn Féin justice spokesman Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD also expressed concerns that the 36 ongoing cases, some stretching back years, have not yet resulted in any sanction.

“I am quite concerned at the lack of obvious progress in these Protected Disclosure cases,” the Cork South-Central deputy said.

“While I acknowledge there are and have been resourcing issues with the Protected Disclosures unit, it appears that aside from the 13 cases which were discontinued, the other 36 cases which were on the books, there has not been any cases which have led to prosecution, or disciplinary action.”

The watchdog repeatedly raised its concerns in public about a lack of resources to investigate what it said were very complicated and time-consuming cases.

This resulted in the staggered provision of extra staff by the Government, first in 2017 and subsequently towards the end of last year.

The GSOC Protected Disclosures report for 2018 shows that there were nine cases in 2016, which brought to 31 the number of files on hand in 2017.

Of these, six were closed where it was deemed that further examination was not necessary or reasonably practicable.

That meant three cases from 2016 were included in the 25 cases that were on hand at the start of 2018 (22 new cases in 2017).

The report said that the 24 files received in 2018 brought the total to 49.

It said that 13 of these were discontinued for different reasons.

Reasons can include: the case falls outside the provisions in the Protected Disclosures Act 2014; it is not the public interest to investigate the cases; or it is not necessary or reasonably practicable to proceed if the matters are already under investigation by a statutory agency or information about the case is already in the public domain because of court proceeding, etc.

GSOC said the first full-time GSOC investigators were allocated to its new Protected Disclosures Unit in March 2018.

It said the commission had previously identified the need for such a unit and made a case for staff.

“Sanction for five staff for the unit was granted in late 2017 and in November 2018 sanction was given for another five staff to deal with the growing number of protected disclosures being received by GSOC,” it said.

It said four investigating officers were in the unit by the end of 2018 and that five more, as well as an analyst, should be in place by the middle of this year.

GSOC said that “time will tell whether the number is sufficient” but said that with the increased staffing the “backlog of older cases is expected to clear”.

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