10 Aug 2022

Whistleblowing Prison Officer wins case against Irish Prison Service

Prison officer's case was backed by the findings of a judicial inquiry

prison portlaoise

Pirson officer wins case against Prison Service.

A prison officer, who blew the whistle on training and employment issues in the Irish Prison Service and whose actions were supported by a judicial report, has won a case against the Irish Prison Service and been awarded €30,000 in the process.

The Irish Examiner has revealed details of the ruling in the long-running case involving a prison officer which the Irish Prison Service fought at length at different levels. The officer is understood to be based in Laois with the issues that gave rise to his complaints arising at the Portlaoise prison complex.

It is reported that the officer was awarded the compensation as a result of unfair treatment he received after making a protected disclosure under the Protected Disclosures Act 2014.

The act aims to protect people who raise concerns about possible wrongdoing at work. It is often called the whistleblower law and provides for redress for employees who are dismissed or penalised for reporting possible wrongdoing in the workplace.

The Workplace Relations Commission has now reportedly ruled in his favour in relation to the original complaint and various harmful consequences he suffered as a result of his complaint.

The prison officer originally blew the whistle in March 2016 about training and employment practices. The Department of Justice refused to recognise his allegations as a protected disclosure but the officer appealed

The appeal was considered by a retired judge. Judge William Early examined the issue deemed in February 2017 that he had made a disclosure as permitted under the law.

"The discloser was treated unfairly for making the disclosures and his opportunities for career advancement were deliberately curtailed by the Irish Prison Service," found the judge.

"The IPS did not comply with its own standards as laid out in its policy in that it did not address with sufficient seriousness the concerns of the discloser and further penalised him for his complaints," he said. 

The judge also investigated the response violent incidents which the officer witnessed while on duty which involved assaults on prison officers.

Judge Early found that "another example of isolation" involved the "alleged" failure of prison authorities to interview the officer after he witnessed the two violent incidents in which one prison officer suffered a broken ankle and another suffered lacerations.

"The incident of March 2015 suggests a serious criminal offence was committed. According to the discloser the DPP did not prosecute due to want of evidence. In any event it is quite extraordinary that the primary witness to the assault was not interviewed," the judge found.

In February 2015, the officer was notified that the Gardaí were investigating a report from the member of the public of an incident at his local shopping centre. It was claimed he was being filmed and followed.

Because of the security risk he notified prison authorities. Gardaí investigated but did not find any evidence of a security risk. The investigation was closed in April 2015 when the Gardaí notified the prison service. However, the prison officer  did not find out that he or his family were not at risk until more than a year later, in August 2016.

"It is difficult to understand how information of such importance was not given to the discloser in a timely manner," found the judge.

The WRC endorsed the Judge's findings. It said this was an “extremely serious issue of a potential security threat” and ruled the treatment was linked to his disclosure.

The WRC found the prison officer had written to management in July 2016, reminding them he had sought a report on the security matter earlier in February.

“The response he received was that the matter was progressing to HQ and was awaiting a response. This despite local management having knowledge of the removal of the threat to the complainant and his family since April 2015.”

The WRC deciding officer found a  “failure of management to inform the complainant, despite his very clear, cogent descriptions of the effects of the matter on his family, constituted unfair treatment”

The WRC concluded that: "There was a link to his protected disclosure”.

The Irish Prison Service can appeal to the Labour Court. 

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