Prison officer gets apology, then service denies any disclosure

The prison service is denying that a prison officer whistleblower made a protected disclosure about the misuse of public funds despite the head of the service writing to the officer to apologise for his treatment following the disclosure.

The officer is taking a case at the Work Relations Commission (WRC) based on what he alleges was bullying and isolation he suffered after he made the protected disclosure.

He had complained that the prison was appointing untrained personnel to catering and gym roles in a move that was a misuse of public funds.

Among his complaints of bullying and isolation were:

  • He was not reassigned to the catering area for three years – where he had worked – after he made his initial complaint about untrained workers in the kitchen;
  • He was constantly assigned to work with members much junior to him and given a staff number ordinarily assigned to junior officers in order to “belittle his standing among fellow staff members”;
  • He was not interviewed following two violent incidents in the prison, despite being the chief officer in charge of the area. One officer sustained a broken ankle in the incident and another required 13 stitches. A subsequent review found: “It is quite extraordinary that a primary witness to a serious assault was not interviewed.”

While the prison service disputed his complaints, an external review, conducted by a retired judge, upheld his complaints and agreed that he had been penalised as a result.

At a WRC hearing yesterday, the prison service “strongly submitted that the disclosure/complaint made by the complainant does not qualify as a protected disclosure and (sic) understood within the provisions of Protected Disclosures Act 2014”.

“It is further submitted that the complainant was not subjected to any penalisation arising from the disclosure made by him.”

Yet last February, after the review by Judge William Early was completed, the director general of the prison service Michael Donnellan wrote to the officer “in relation to a protected disclosure made by you”.

The letter went on: “I want to sincerely apologise for the distress caused to you and your family as a result of the manner in which your complaints were addressed by the Irish Prison Service.

“I want to put on record my acknowledgement of the valuable service you have provided to this organisation in pointing out deficiencies in operations and in recommending improvements.”

A spokesman for the Irish Prison Service said due to the confidentiality around protective disclosures it would be making no comment.

Earlier this week the Irish Examiner revealed another case of a prison officer who made a protected disclosure about a violent incident in Cloverhill Prison which the prison authorities had denied for two years had even occurred.

Officer Gerard Butler has been threatened with dismissal over his failure to complete an academic course as part of his employment.

He claims the threat is linked to his protected disclosure. The prison service confirmed that no officer has been dismissed in last five years over a failure to complete the course in question.

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