I move amendment No. 7:
In page 11, between lines 47 and 48, to insert the following:
"(2) No disciplinary measure may be taken under this Act against a civil servant who in good faith reports a suspicion of illegality or other wrong-doing to a body or person having a legal function in respect of such illegality or other wrong-doing".
This amendment deals with the question of the position of civil servants who, in good faith, wish to report suspicion of illegality or other wrongdoing to a body or person having a legal function in respect of such illegality or wrongdoing. Its purpose is to provide a minimum protection for whistleblowers. The UK has already enacted such legislation. It means, in effect, that a whistleblower could not be disciplined for reporting impropriety to relevant bodies. However, the amendment does not cover reports made to the media.
The Minister of State's colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, wanted to discipline members of the Garda because he believed they had excessive contact with the media at times. This does not deal with the media. However, it is a question of checks and balances.
The Minister of State is introducing, in this and other legislation, extremely powerful and extended powers for the bosses in the Civil Service, namely, the Secretaries General. There is the evidence of tribunals, disclosures, for example, from the Flood tribunal as regards a former manager in the Dublin city and county area. These were shocking revelations, particularly for those who in the past had worked so hard and with such integrity in all the different areas of the public service. There were also the recent stunning revelations from the Morris tribunal as regards what went wrong and how various elements of the Garda Síochána administering the system simply failed. The judge set it out in stunning detail.
Earlier today, Deputy Ó Caoláin raised the issue of the death of Councillor Eddie Fullerton in Donegal some time ago. This is another matter in respect of which there are serious questions to be answered by senior management in the Garda Síochána as well as in the Police Service of Northern Ireland. In all of these cases, much of the information was only leaked or seeped out because very brave people were prepared to try to bring them into the public domain.
In giving senior service managers vastly increased powers in terms of firing civil servants, the Labour Party is saying that there is a serious case for the Government to introduce a compensating mechanism to protect people who have honest and legitimate concerns and who have insight into absolute wrongdoing or the wasting of public money. I am not referring to a cranks' charter. Senior managers sometimes like to assert that whistleblowing gives some type of licence to cranky people to make complaints that are unjustified. The amendment from the Labour Party is entirely reasonable. I hope the Minister of State will be in a position to accept it because it is absolutely essential for the continuing functioning of our democracy.
The Minister of State's party and colleagues in Government have repeatedly stated, at the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service, in respect of the scandals in the Irish banking industry that is necessary for the banks to provide a conduit for employees who become aware of wrongdoing to allow them to safely disclose information without damaging themselves. Politicians from all parties accept that in private business it is absolutely correct, where people hold great positions of trust, power and authority, that there should be a provision for employees who become aware of wrongdoing to enable them, without endangering their jobs, to bring it to the attention of persons with responsibility.
I do not understand why the Government should be reluctant to grant the same protection to civil servants who, for the most part, have served the country with the most enormous integrity since the foundation of the State. However, there are cases of mismanagement, wrongdoing and, in a small number of cases, corruption in the public service. In the context of the Bill, therefore, a whistleblower's charter is an absolutely essential balancing component to the type of additional powers that the legislation gives to Civil Service bosses.