Whistleblowers ‘should not live in fear of reprisals’, says AGSI

Garda whistleblowers should not be “buried” or “suffer reprisal” when they make allegations of malpractice, middle-ranking officers have said.

The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors has called on the Government not to go ahead with plans to make the Garda Ombudsman responsible for investigating such allegations.

Vice-president Antoinette Cunningham said members would be “reluctant” to confide in a body that might have previously investigated them for alleged wrongdoing.

She said AGSI instead want the current confidential recipient — a judge — to be the one whistleblowers go to.

Ms Cunningham said the fundamental element of the confidential reporting system was that whistleblowers “do not suffer reprisal or fear or victimisation”.

At the AGSI annual delegate conference, she said: “Their identity must be protected and their claim, taken to be genuine, unless it is proven, subsequently, not to be so.”

And she added: “We do not want to see allegations of malpractice being buried, or the people that make them.”

She said AGSI was calling on Justice Minister Alan Shatter and the Government to row back on plans to give the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission responsibility to dealing with whistleblower allegations.

The Government is taking the responsibility away from the confidential recipient. However, the AGSI want the role to remain with that independent person.

“There is a suggestion that GSOC might be the appropriate confidential recipient,” Ms Cunningham said. “AGSI do not agree with this proposition, for the simple reason the Ombudsman Commission was set up to deal with complaints against gardaí and our members would be reluctant to confide in a body who would have previously investigated them.”

She said they wanted “somebody independent” to do the job, adding: “We welcome the appointment of a judge as confidential recipient”.

Mayo delegate Sergeant Tony Lavery said that if gardaí do not have confidence in the whistleblower charter, it was “a waste of time”.

“The whistleblower controversy has done more reputational damage to An Garda Síochána than anything since the foundation of the force,” said Sgt Lavery.

“I’m not being critical of whistleblowers or whistleblowing. That’s not the point. A lot of members I represent and we supervise at garda rank are bemused and bewildered at what has taken place within the organisation and to the organisation. Their morale is on the floor with the negative publicity.

“Their attitude is ‘why should I do anything if I do only get into trouble’. People are looking over their shoulders any time they go to do anything.”

Sgt Lavery added that he felt politicians had used the controversies for their own benefit.

Members were speaking on a motion proposed by the Donegal branch calling on the AGSI national executive to seek to have the confidential recipient charter reviewed and revised to make it “more robust in the protection of genuine whistleblowers” in the force. The motion was carried unanimously.

Donegal delegate Jim Collins said: “With the exposure of recent whistleblowers, and the extensive media coverage they have received in the last number of weeks, confidence in the current system of confidential reporting has taken a serious blow.It is the belief of the Donegal branch, colleagues, that the system, as it currently exists, is deterring whistleblowers within An Garda Síochána.”

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