GSOC to Host conference of European Whistleblowing Authorities
Conference – hosted by outgoing GSOC Chair Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring – to discuss EU Whistleblowers Directive with European sister agencies in the ‘Network of European Integrity and Whistleblowing Authorities’ (NEIWA). Transposition deadline of 17 December will not be met by Ireland, however Protected Disclosures (Amendment) Bill 2021 significantly progressed. GSOC to continue EU-level engagement on whistleblowing standards as the work of NEIWA further expands following planned ‘Dublin Declaration’.
Thursday 9 December 2021
The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) will today (Thursday 9 December 2021) call for the swift transposition into Irish law of new EU standards on whistleblowing.
The call will come during a conference of the Network of European Integrity and Whistleblowing Authorities (NEIWA), hosted virtually by GSOC from Dublin on Thursday and Friday. The Network brings together over 30 institutions from 22 EU member states that receive protected disclosures and conduct investigations on criminal and civil matters arising. GSOC is the ‘prescribed person’ for protected disclosures from members and staff of An Garda Síochána under the Protected Disclosures Act 2014.
NEIWA has actively engaged with the EU and national governments on the EU ‘Whistle-blowers’ Directive 1937/2019. The Directive places an obligation on all EU Member States to legislate for a clear set of standards to permit whistleblowing and protected disclosures by employees, as well as protections for those who come forward. The deadline for member states to do this is 17 December 2021.
While Irish legislation to transpose these new EU standards is significantly progressed, current indications are that the Protected Disclosures (Amendment) Bill 2021 will not be enacted by the 17 December deadline, but is expected to be enacted in quarter 1 2022.
GSOC Chair Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring, during her address to the conference, will underscore the importance of passing this legislation as soon as possible:
“GSOC has had extensive experience of building a protected disclosure infrastructure from the ground up, and has had the honour of sharing its experience and expertise with colleagues across the EU.
The framework of standards for whistleblowers provided for in the new EU Directive will transform how members of the public and employees can safely and confidentially call out wrong doing by organisations and individuals in positions of authority.
Drawing on our own experience setting up a protected disclosures system, GSOC has actively engaged with DPER over the past two years in their development of Protected Disclosures (Amendment) Bill 2021. We are pleased that this legislation is significantly progressed, but would emphasise the importance of finalising it as swiftly as possible in order to meet Ireland’s obligations under the Directive.
GSOC looks forward to engaging further with DPER on the legislation, and to further engagement with its sister organisations across Europe as a member of NEIWA as we follow the practical implementation of the Directive by member states over the coming months.”
The NEIWA conference will take place virtually on Thursday 9 and Friday 10 December and will mark Justice Ring’s final formal engagement as Chair of GSOC as her term draws to a close this week. It is expected that Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath will open the event with a pre-recorded address reflecting on NEIWA’s work and indicating that the legislation will be enacted in quarter 1 of next year. It is expected that a ‘Dublin Declaration’ by NEIWA, underscoring the importance of aligning member states’ whistleblowing standards to the new Directive, will be published following the Conference.
NOTES TO EDITOR
The Network of European Integrity and Whistleblowing Authorities (NEIWA)
The Network of European Integrity and Whistleblowing Authorities (NEIWA) was established in the Spring of 2019 by a number of organisations across Europe with a role in receiving and investigating complaints and protected disclosures from whistle-blowers.
Member institutions must have a range of statutory powers in their jurisdictions, including the ability to receive disclosures, decide if they contain relevant wrongdoing, investigate matters of criminal and or disciplinary nature, report on matters to prosecutors, be involved the prosecution of matters in a legal environment and make observations on findings.
GSOC, in the context of its protected disclosures remit under the Protected Disclosures Act 2014, was one of the Network’s nine initial members. The Network has since expanded to a membership of 30 institutions from 22 EU member states. The Office of the Ombudsman in Ireland is NEIWA’s newest member, who joins in anticipation of its new function as home to the new ‘Protected Disclosures Office’ to be established under the new legislation (see below).
The Network is currently administered in the Netherlands by Dutch network member ‘Huis voor Klokkenluiders’ (the House of Whistleblowers). See their website HERE.
The focus of the network to date has been the EU Whistle-blowers Directive (1937/2019), and the challenges and opportunities faced by network members in ensuring its effective transposition into domestic law.
NEIWA meets four times a year with two formal meetings and two informal.
Following its recent meetings, the Network has issued various declarations and statements highlighting some of the core requirements for the effective implementation of the Directive at member state level.
- For its ‘Brussels’ Declaration of 18 December 2020, see HERE.
- For its declaration of 17 September 2021, which focussed on the approaching 17 December transposition deadline, see HERE.
NEIWA as a body interacts with the EU on the transposition of the Directive and also shares information and learning about the challenges faced in member states on implementing the Directive. Progress on Transposition has been slow to date, with most Member States, including Ireland, likely to miss the transposition deadline of 17 December. NEIWA will therefore continue to engage at international and domestic level to advocate for the swift incorporation of the Directive into domestic law, and to raise awareness and understanding of the requirements of the new Directive, which regardless of transposition, will come into force on 17 December.
It is the intention of NEIWA to further expand in the coming years as the Directive is implemented, and to continue to share learnings from member States, which will assist not only in Transposition, but in ongoing periodic review of member states’ legislative frameworks on whistle blowing. With a view to this, NEIWA have engaged with the EU on funding for the creation of a knowledge hub.
The EU Whistle-blowers Directive (1937/2019) places an obligation on all EU Member States to legislate for a clear set of standards to permit whistleblowing and protected disclosures by employees, as well as protections for those who come forward. The deadline for member states to do this is 17 December 2021.
Key elements of the directive include:
- From its entry into force, companies and public bodies with 250 or more employees will have to implement an internal reporting system available to all employees. From 2023, this will reduce to companies and public bodies with 50 or more employees.
- Disclosures include: breaches of EU Law in areas of procurement, finance, safety, compliance, environmental protection, food safety, public health, privacy and data, information security, competition law, and other areas.
- The directive provides that whistle-blowers will be protected from dismissal.
- Member States must establish clear procedures and reporting channels in domestic law to ensure the provisions of the directive are met, and that all the protections are provided for.
- Member states must also put into place effective sanctions for failure to adhere to the directive’s standards, or failure to protect whistle-blowers.
A useful overview of the Directive is available HERE.
Transposition of the Directive into Irish Law
In Ireland, it is intended to transpose the Directive by way of the Protected Disclosures (Amendment) Bill 2021. It is available HERE.
The Draft Bill has been undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform and Taoiseach.
GSOC has been engaging with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on the transposition process, including through provision on views on the draft bill and by way of submission to the Oireachtas Joint Committee.
A core provision of the Bill is the proposed establishment of a new ‘Protected Disclosures Office’ in the Office of the Ombudsman.