Whistleblowing prison officer to seek early retirement over continued 'negative treatment'

Leinster Express Reporter

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Leinster Express Reporter

Prison portlaoise

Midlands Prison Portlaoise

A prison service whistleblower whose claims were backed by a judicial investigation says he has been forced to apply for early retirement due to ongoing 'negative treatment'.

The Laois-based officer confirmed his decision to the Leinster Express.

"I have been forced to request early retirement from the Irish Prison Service (IPS) due to my constant negative treatment and their refusal to address it," he said in a statement.

He said the issue would be raised at the Dáil Public Accounts Committee meeting on Thursday, with comment of his current situation. He said he has made his local TD and Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan aware of the situation.

In a statement, the Irish Prison Service said it does not comment on individual officers.

The officer blew the whistle on training and employment issues in the Irish Prison Service in 2016. However, this led to a chain of events which he believes has culminated in his departure.

He raised issues in March 2016 but the Department of Justice refused to recognise his allegations as a protected disclosure. The officer lodge an appeal to the decision which was made when Frances Fitzgerald was the minister.

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

A subsequent Workplace Relations Commission finding ordered that the IPS pay €30,000 in compensation to the officer. 

Judge Early's report was highly critical of the officer's treatment

"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 to 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 officier 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 Workplace Relations Commission later 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 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 later appealed the finding and the €30,000 award to Labour Court. 

The officer has been forced to take extended sick leave and has also claimed that he was isolated at work. The officer also claimed that he was left unpaid for periods by the service.

He says he has not worked since January to what he describes as a 'unique working regime' which he claims left him feeling like he was 'a dangerous risk'. Due to absenting himself he has not been paid and so says he has no option but to retire.

His experience and those of other whistleblowers have been raised in the Dáil by Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry.