Tánaiste Leo Varadkar is among a group of senior politicians and public officials who will be investigated for allegedly failing to protect a whistleblower in the Irish Prison Service. The investigation could fundamentally change how politicians deal with a person making a protected disclosure.
The investigation has arisen out of a protected disclosure from a retired prison officer, another part of which involves a possible Garda investigation into fraud and theft in the service.
Noel McGree made the disclosure following a Public Accounts Committee meeting in January 2019 at which a number of allegations about fraud in the service were aired. He was still working in the service at the time and later approached the justice minister Charlie Flanagan, saying he had evidence fraud had occurred. The minister arranged for the matter to be examined, which led to a report being compiled, which was handed on to An Garda Síochána.
Mr McGree claims no efforts were made by the prison service, the Justice Department or minister to protect him from any penalisation, despite there being a record of penalisation against him following an earlier disclosure. In 2017, a judge ruled he had been the subject of penalisation and the Workplace Relations Commission later awarded him €30,000 over the same issue.
He contacted Mr Flanagan and he says the minister “failed to recommend an external investigation of certain complaints of penalisation” referring the matter back to the prison service.
Mr McGree further complained to then-taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who referred the matter back to the justice minister, whom Mr McGree had by then included in his complaint over inaction.
A barrister examining Mr McGree’s complaint has deemed it admissible for a full investigation. He retired from the prison service in January 2020 and claims his position had become untenable because of how he was being treated.
If the complaint is found to have substance, it could place much greater responsibility on politicians to ensure that disclosers are protected.