Irish Prison Service forced to review 'all' whistleblowing procedures after prison officer wins €30,000

Service confirms to the Leinster Express that review follows learnings over past two years

Conor Ganly


Conor Ganly


prison portlaoise

Prison Officers on duty at the Midlands Prison Portlaoise.

All aspects of whistleblowing procedures in the the Irish Prison Service are being considered, the Service has confirmed.

In the wake of a €30,000 award to a Laois based-prison officer who was found to have been penalised for highlighting shorcomings, the service issued a statement to the Leinster Express confirming the top to bottom review.

A spokesperson said a Protected Disclosures Policy was adopted and approved in October 2015 but confirmed this is now under review.

“The Irish Prison Service Protected Disclosure Policy is being currently being reviewed and all aspects of the policy are being considered in the light of learnings over the past two years.

“A working group to carry out this review has been established.

“The Irish Prison Service intend to finalise its Review of the IPS Protected Disclosure Policy at end March 2018 and any revisions to the policy arising from that Review will be implemented shortly thereafter in tandem with a communication strategy to raise awareness of the policy and to encourage and support staff to bring incidents of wrongdoing to our attention,” said a statement.

It declined to say how the review is being carried out our by whom.

The Service said it giving consideration to the ruling of the Workplace Relations Commission which was received on the 8 March, 2018 and as to whether the matter will be appealed to the Labour Court.

It said a Protected Disclosures Policy was adopted and approved on the 30 October 2015.  The statement said the the purpose of the policy is to encourage all workers to raise internally concerns about possible wrongdoing in the workplace so that these concerns can be investigated.

The Irish Prison Service Protected Disclosures Policy indicates that “as a first step, a worker, believing reasonably, that a wrongdoing exists in the workplace, should consider reporting the matter to his/her:

 a)   Line manager at Assistant Governor Level or above

 If the worker would be uncomfortable or otherwise reluctant to report to his/her manager, then they can report the matter to:

 b)      The next highest level of management up to and including the appropriate Director or Campus Governor

 However, if for any reason the worker feels it inappropriate to report a wrongdoing to the persons above, then s/he should report these concerns to

 c)      The Head of Internal Audit.

The statment said the Head of Internal Audit is available at all times to receive disclosures from workers.  The Head of Internal Audit is based in the Department of Justice and Equality but has a remit over Vote 21 the Irish Prison Service.

"As it is imperative that staff understand their role in handling a protected disclosure, attendance at Protected Disclosure training was rolled out and was mandatory for all senior staff in the Irish Prison Service," said the statment.

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, was award the €30,000 after winning a case against the Irish Prison Service.

The award and ruling placed the Irish Prison Service under the microscope nationally over how it treats staff who wish to highlight shortcomings in the service's ability to deal with complaints.

While the officer continues to argue he remains isolated in his job, his actions have forced the IPS into a complete review and possible overhaul of how it handles legitimate concerns of staff.

The long-running dispute involves a prison officer who the Irish Prison Service has 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.

He 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 ruled in his favour in relation to the original complaint and various harmful consequences he suffered as a result.

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 Earley examined the issue and 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 and 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 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.

It has subsequently emerged that he was being followed in a case of mistaken identity involving a private investigator.

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.”

It is understood that the €30,000 award covers just six months after making the protected disclosure - March to October 2016. A second new complaint has been made to the Department of Justice as a result of what is claimed to be ongoing consequences.

The Department of Justice declined to comment. It is understood that McCann Fitzgerald solicitors have been appointed to carry out a review. The terms of reference are unknown.

Despite the award his solictors Reidy Stafford remains in the dark about the next steps.

Laois TD and Minister for Justice Charlie Flangan declined to comment.

The case has been raised with him in the Dáil. It has also been covered extensively in national media.