PAC recommends external probe into Prison Service account-keeping

The investigation, if it goes ahead, would look at catering procurement within the Irish Prison Service.

Whistleblower, now retired prison officer Noel McGree at his home in Portlaoise. Picture: Moya Nolan

The Public Accounts Committee has agreed to recommend to justice minister Helen McEntee that she launch an external investigation into the standards of financial account-keeping at the Irish Prison Service.

The investigation, should it come to fruition, will aim to probe issues surrounding catering procurement within the Prison Service — issues first raised by the Comptroller and Auditor General in his report for 2019.

The proposal was first delivered by Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster at today’s meeting of PAC. 

Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster.

Ms Munster said she welcomed the news, but stressed that she was disappointed at the standard of answer provided to the committee at the meeting by the head of the IPS Caron McCaffrey and the head of the Department of Justice Oonagh McPhillips with regard to the separate issue of whistleblowers in the service.

At the meeting, the IPS declined to confirm to Ms Munster how many of its staff have been sanctioned for penalising or discriminating against whistleblowers for their actions in recent years.

Under questioning, Ms McCaffrey said she had “no specific information” as to any such disciplinary action having been taken against IPS staff.

Director of human resources with the IPS, Don Cullition, said that there had been more than 40 disciplinary cases taken against staff in 2019, but said he could not say if any of them related to protected disclosure issues.

Ms Munster told him that “you’d imagine if they were related to a protected disclosure, you’d have it in your mind”.

"We’ll assume there were none until we’re corrected,” she added.

The hearing was being held in light of the news that several public officials, including Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, are to be investigated for allegedly failing to protect a whistleblower, now retired prison officer Noel McGree, after he made a protected disclosure.

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