I will respond to all three amendments. It appears from the text of the amendment dealing with whistleblowers that the inclusion is sought of a provision in the Bill to protect whistleblowers within the Civil Service. These are persons who wish to report wrongdoing within their organisation in the hope of preventing or stopping it. It must be remembered that protections are afforded to civil servants under both the Standards in Public Office Act 2001 and the Civil Service code of standards and behaviour, which was introduced last year in accordance with section 10(3) of the Act. Taken together, I am confident that these measures will adequately ensure the substance of the proposed amendment. I am, therefore, willing to accept the amendment.
Work continues on the development of specific legislation to deal with the issue of whistleblowers. For that reason, I feel that it would not be appropriate to address this matter in the context of the Civil Service Regulation Act 1956. The Standards in Public Office Commission supervises compliance with the ethics Act in so far as they apply to office holders, that is, Ministers, Ministers of State, the Attorney General, ministerial special advisers, senior civil servants and so on. The commission is empowered to investigate complaints involving acts or omission of these persons, where a complainant considers that such a person has acted in a manner which was inconsistent with the proper performance of the functions of their office, or where their behaviour is contrary to the maintenance of public confidence and the matter in question is of significant public importance.
The Act provides in section 5(1) that where a person makes a complaint to the commission in good faith, no cause of action shall lie against such a person and no disciplinary action shall be taken against the person as a result of reporting the person's concerns to the commission. Section 5(4) provides that the person who takes disciplinary action against a complainant in this context will be guilty of an offence and liable to a substantial fine. In addition, section 5(3) of the Act provides that if a person is dismissed by his or her employer as a disciplinary measure because the person reported a complaint to the commission, that dismissal will be considered as an unfair dismissal for the purposes of the unfair dismissals legislation. This avenue of redress provides an additional protection for civil servants, in light of the extension of the unfair dismissals legislation to civil servants.
In addition, Civil Service code of standards and behaviour applies to all staff within the Civil Service. It sets out a clear framework within which civil servants must operate. The code draws particular attention to the necessity of impartiality and the maintenance of independence within the Civil Service, both of which are fundamental in protecting the integrity of officers in the Civil Service. The code underlines the fact that any breaches of its provisions by a civil servant will constitute a breach of the terms and conditions of his employment in the Civil Service and may render him liable to disciplinary action. It states that no civil servant must ever act in any way which he knows or suspects to be illegal, improper or unethical.
Civil servants who have doubts about the legality of a particular action which they are required to take in the course of their official duties should refer the matter to their superiors, whose responsibility it is to issue a direction on the matter. Those superiors are bound by the same duties to act within the law as the officer who reports to them. They are subject to the same sanctions should they breach the instructions set out in the code.
Paragraph 13 of the code provides that a civil servant is not allowed to use his official position to benefit himself or others with whom he has personal family, business or other ties, or to attempt to use political influence to effect decisions concerning his official position. A breach of this provision would render the civil servant concerned liable to disciplinary action.
Deputy Burton mentioned the need for legislative protection for whistleblowers in the Civil Service. The Whistleblowers Protection Bill was introduced in the Dáil as a Private Members' Bill by Deputy Rabbitte in June 1999. Following its introduction, the Government agreed to progress the Bill. A memorandum for Government on the Bill was circulated to Departments by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment in November 2000. Observations from Departments were received in November of that year. In 2001, extensive amendments to the Bill were prepared. These amendments were approved by the Government in July 2001. The amendments approved by Governments raised a number of detailed and complex issues, which require substantial redrafting of the Bill by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. Work on the Bill is continuing and it remains on the Government's legislative programme.
With regard to amendment No. 13, legislative provision for the imposition of disciplinary action on civil servants is currently governed by section 15 of the Civil Service Regulation Act 1956. It was expanded upon in the Department of Finance circular No.1 of 1992, which sets out the current Civil Service disciplinary code. There is a disciplinary code in place in the Civil Service based on fair procedure which ensures that an accused officer gets a fair hearing, adequate representation and a chance to have any disciplinary proceeding reviewed by an independent appeals board.
As the Bill will amend section 15 of the 1956 Act, it will be necessary to take account of the changes to section 15 in the Civil Service disciplinary code. Consequently, a new code is being drafted in consultation with the Civil Service unions. I am fully confident that the new code will replicate the strong emphasis currently placed on the protection of the rights of the individual officer, particularly in respect of access to fair procedures. For that reason, I consider that the reference in the text to this amendment to a civil servant's right to fair procedures is not required. I am, therefore, unwilling to accept amendment No. 13.
I will finally deal with amendment No. 14. This Bill represents a significant step forward in the way in which staff are managed in the Civil Service. The Bill deals with disciplinary issues in a more comprehensive manner than was previously the case. The Deputy suggests the amendment relates to the arrangements in place under the disciplinary and grievance procedures in the Civil Service. The Bill does not and should not deal with detailed arrangements and procedures entailed in the disciplinary procedures. Accordingly, I do not accept the amendment put forward by the Deputy.