The Garda Ombudsman has received a surge in garda whistleblower complaints this year, with 13 disclosures to date in 2017 compared to 11 over the previous three years, writes Cormac O'Keeffe.
The development comes as the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) secured sanction for five extra staff from the Department of Justice to investigate what has become a backlog of such cases.
Gsoc welcomed what it said was a “starting allocation of personnel” but said that, before now, it had not been given any additional staff or resources to investigate these complicated complaints since it was given a role to do so in 2014.
In a strongly-worded statement, Gsoc said that, in passing the Protected Disclosures Act 2014, there appeared to have been “no regard” for the powers and procedures of Gsoc under the Garda Síochána Act 2005, which had “led to investigative complexities” that had been “challenging to reconcile”.
Last September, Gsoc chair Judge Mary Ellen Ring told the Oireachtas justice committee that protected disclosure investigations were complex and that there was no doubt she would like to devote more time to them.
Independents 4 Change TDs Mick Wallace and Clare Daly raised serious concerns regarding the operation of the protected disclosures’ system and the delays in investigating cases.
Judge Ring said it was clearly an issue and that it would “clearly be of benefit” if Gsoc had a skilled and dedicated team. At the time, she said they had four protected disclosures.
Gsoc’s 2016 annual report, published earlier this month, said it had had 11 disclosures by the end of the year. This included four cases from 2014 and 2015 and a further seven in 2016.
Gsoc’s statement said it had had 13 disclosures already this year.
“In early 2017, in particular, we saw an increase in such disclosures,” it said. “To date, there have been 24 disclosures under the 2014 Act made to Gsoc.
“In the almost three years since the legislation was passed Gsoc has not received any additional personnel or accompanying resources to carry out the necessary investigations. Gsoc has had to ‘add on’ this important work to an already congested workload.”
The Irish Examiner reported yesterday that Gsoc was struggling with a significantly increased caseload, in addition to ongoing vacancies, which stand at seven positions. The ombudsman has 27 public interest investigations ongoing, most of which are complicated and time-consuming inquiries, some ongoing since 2014.
Of the 27 inquiries, 15 were referred by former justice minister Frances Fitzgerald under the Independent Review Mechanism.
The Gsoc statement said it had recently been informed by the Department of Justice, in conjunction with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, that posts for four investigators, along with a support staff member, had been sanctioned to investigate protected disclosures.
The Protected Disclosures Act 2014 replaced the existing ‘confidential recipient’ system for whistleblowers which had become embroiled in controversy.
However, the statement said: “In passing the 2014 Act there appears to have been no regard for the provisions of part 4 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 and this had led to investigative complexities which have been challenging to reconcile.”
It said the allocation of five staff was welcome and that steps were already underway to fill the posts.
“The commission further welcomes the commitment by the Tánaiste that it is hoped to build on this starting allocation of personnel in the context of the estimates for 2018,” Gsoc said.
“This is a commitment Gsoc will pursue into the future.”
This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner website.