I thank the Deputy for the questions, which are linked to Deputy Connolly’s question, and this gives me a bit of time to answer it.
I propose to take Questions Nos. 93 and 103 together.
In accordance with the terms of section 22 of the Protected Disclosure Act 2014, an annual report on the total number of protected disclosures made in the preceding year is prepared and published on the Department's website. This report is required to be prepared and published not later than 30 June in each year in relation to the immediate preceding year in a form which does not enable the identification of the persons involved. The report contains the number of protected disclosures made to the public body; the action, if necessary, taken in response to those protected disclosures; such other information relating to those protected disclosures; and the action taken as may be requested by the Minister from time to time.
The following are the numbers of protected disclosures received in the years 2014, to date. In 2014 it was two; in 2015 it was three; in 2016 it was two; in 2017 it was 11; in 2018 it was four; in 2019 it was four; in 2020 it was 12; and 2021 it was ten. These numbers relate to the total number of disclosures made to the defence organisation. They are not broken down further into the allocation of the disclosure, which is in keeping with the confidentiality requirements specified in the 2014 Act. The making of a disclosure by a member of a formation does not necessarily mean the disclosure relates to that formation. No civil servant in the Department of Defence has made a protected disclosure. Section 16 of the Act provides that, subject to exemptions, "A person to whom a protected disclosure is made, and any person to whom a protected disclosure is referred in the performance of that person’s duties, shall not disclose to another person any information that might identify the person by whom the protected disclosure was made."
On this basis, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the specific detail that may identify a discloser. Information disclosed to me relates to a broad range of issues, including administrative, financial, regulatory, and health and safety issues. This latter category includes bullying and harassment.
Each disclosure is assessed by officials in a joint civil-military protected disclosures office. Based on their initial assessment, courses of action are recommended to me. These can include the use of internal procedures where information relates to personal employment matters, the appointment of an external reviewer or the transfer of information to appropriate statutory authorities that have powers of investigation, that is to say, An Garda Síochána or others.
The Protected Disclosures Act 2014 provides for independent mechanisms whereby claims of penalisation for making a disclosure can be adjudicated. In the case of members of the Defence Forces, the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces is empowered to deal with claims of penalisation. Based on the above, I am satisfied there are sufficient safeguards and processes in place to provide protection to disclosers.