To begin, I believe it is important to clarify that the review panel to which the Deputy is referring was established in order to assess disclosures made to me, in my capacity as Minister for Justice and Equality, by members or former members of An Garda Síochána. It is not intended that disclosures made directly to An Garda Síochána fall under this review as, given the stringent nature of the rules covering the protection of a discloser’s identity under the Protected Disclosures Act 2014, I would not be privy to any such disclosures. That is not to say, however, that the allegations under consideration have not been made to other parties; they may have been as is a discloser’s right.
The Protected Disclosures Act allows members of An Garda Síochána to make a protected disclosure to one or more of a number of persons, including to the Minister of the day. Since 2014, my Department has received 24 letters from current or former members or employees of An Garda Síochána in relation to matters which might be regarded as a protected disclosure.
Following consultation with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Attorney General, a panel of counsel was established in order to provide independent advice to my Department on how each case should be treated. Five nominated counsel were assigned to the panel and to date I have received advices on six referred cases. In order to ensure an independent assessment of these matters, counsel have been instructed to assess all relevant documentation relating to the allegations and to make whatever recommendations they see fit.
The Deputy will appreciate that, by their very nature, this correspondence may involve varying degrees of complexity and careful consideration of each is of the utmost importance. However, I am anxious that there will be no unnecessary delays in carrying out the assessment and following through on any recommended actions. Officials from my Department are currently reviewing the advices received on the cases that have been completed and are preparing submissions recommending appropriate action for me to take. In the interests of protecting the independence of this process, it is not intended to identify the counsel undertaking this work, at this time. Equally, as the Deputy will understand, I am not permitted to discuss the content of any allegations made in protected disclosures with the Garda Commissioner, or any third party, without the express consent of the discloser themselves. Obviously, if counsel recommend that the allegations be made known to the Commissioner so he may take appropriate action, they may well be referred to him following the receipt of the discloser’s approval for doing so.
With regard to the fee structure put in place for this review process, as part of the sanction provided by DPER, it was agreed that the maximum amount to be paid per case reviewed was €1,000 excluding VAT with a graded scale up to that maximum. Fees are only to be paid to counsel following the completion of their assessment reports.