Writing in today’s Irish Examiner, Mr Howlin, who introduced the whistle-blower legislation in 2014, says urgent action is now required to see those who failed to report child abuse concerns face tougher sanctions.
“We know that we need stronger sanctions against those who fail to report child protection concerns, and that we need to respect the protections that are now provided for those who are brave enough to do so,” he writes.
Mr Howlin says Disablities Minister Finian McGrath has signalled his support for the whistleblowers and for the reports to be published, “but enough time has been allowed to pass — that support must now lead to action”.
Mr Howlin’s comments come in the wake of the publication of the Conor Dignam report into the foster abuse scandal last week.
The former public expenditure minister says it is not enough to be shocked at what has been done to whistleblowers in the past. We must transform our cultural approach to those who dare to speak truth to power, so we welcome efforts to highlight corruption or wrongdoing, and we are open to hearing allegations that would help us to correct and in future prevent such wrongdoings, he says.
“We know that the health services failed in their duty of care to Grace. We know that in 1996, the South Eastern Health Board decided to move her from the foster home. We don’t know why, but we know that didn’t happen. We know that she was left there for another 13 years. Thirteen years during which it is alleged that she was subjected to inhuman levels of abuse against which she could not speak out,” Mr Howlin writes.
In finalising his report on the Grace case, Mr Howlin says Mr Dignam has made a series of recommendations for inclusion in a commission of inquiry into this matter. Mr Dignam has noted that any such commission must investigate “any deliberate suppression or attempted suppression of information during any of the period 1996-2016”.
Mr Howlin adds that stating that such a matter requires investigation is a very serious alarm bell for those of us who believe in protecting the rights of whistleblowers. However, what they say must also be taken seriously — public bodies are now required under law to publish the actions they take in response to protected disclosures.
“The prospect of a chilling effect on whistleblowers due to a heavy-handed reaction by their managers is deeply worrying and completely against both the spirit and text of the law,” he adds.
The Wexford TD says we know the HSE has apologised, albeit not when they originally claimed to have done so. We know we need stronger sanctions against those who fail to report child protection concerns, and that we need to respect the protections that are provided for those who are brave enough to do so, he adds.
“We also know that we need a Commission of Inquiry, and that we need the other reports which remain unpublished in this case to immediately be put into the public domain,” he says.