07 Oct 2022

Judge makes damning findings after prison officer blew the whistle on handling resources by prison services

RTÉ reports shocking revelations over treatment of prison officer who was isolated after he made protected disclosure

Judge makes damming findings after prison officer blew the whistle on handling resources by prison services

A Judge has made damning findings against the Irish Prison Service over the treatment of a prison officer who blew the whistle on an incident in which two of his colleagues were viciously assaulted.

RTÉ Radio's This Week programme has revealed the outcome of a investigation by a Judge into a complaint the officer made over his treatment which could have meant that assaults on his colleague were never prosecuted.

In March 2015 one of his colleagues was slashed needing 13 stitches while another received a broken ankle. The officer witnessed the attack in ful but he was never interviewed for the purpose of a criminal investigation.

The officer alleged that the failure to interview him was triggered by a complaint he lodge under Protected Disclosure Legislation over the inefficient use of prison resources.

His complaints of bullying, isolation and unfair treatment have been upheld by Judge William Early who investigated as external reviewer.

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

"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. 

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 judges.

The officer at the centre of the case has suggested that a protected disclosure manager be appointed by the prison service. The Dáil Public Accounts committee has also been told that no disciplinary action has taken following the Judge's findings in favour o the prison officer.

Fianna Fáil TD John McGuiness is chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. He said the officer suffered the "most negative" events and result in significant penalties.

"That is the shocking experience that this prison officer had in the course of doing the right thing," the Kilkenny TD told RTÉ.

He said the family increased security around their home after the Garda report. He claimed the man and his wife became ill due to the stress and strain. 

He said the IPS showed "scant regard" for prison officers. He claimed that the prison service withheld salary and refused to grant leave for sickness and were 'unhelpful' to the family circumstances of the officer.

Dep McGuinness called for the IPS to act on the recommendations. Not doing so he said "protects the status quo and offers no protection to the person who is trying to do the right thing".

He said independent office should be set up to handle protected disclosures from whistleblowers.

He said concrete action must be taken and anyone in the prison service found to have been bullying in this case should be sanctioned.

The Irish Prison Service and Department of Justice have apologised to the prison officer. The IPS was unable to comment on individual protected disclosures. 

The location of the incidents or the officers identity was not revealed.

The Irish Prison Officer Association highlighted the problem of ongoing violence against prison officers at its recent annual conference.

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