The last year has seen a substantial increase in the number of protected disclosures made to the Central Bank of Ireland under the Protected Disclosures Act 2014, as is evident from its recently published 2016 Report on Protected Disclosures.
Overview of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 (PDA)
The PDA provides comprehensive, pansectoral employment protections and legal immunities to all workers raising concerns about possible wrongdoing discovered in their workplace. For the PDA to apply, the disclosure must be a “protected disclosure”, namely a disclosure of “relevant information” made by a “worker” according to the stepped disclosure regime set out in the Act.
The PDA empowers the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (the “Minister”) to prescribe persons as appropriate recipients of disclosures of relevant wrongdoings. Disclosure to a prescribed person is protected where the worker reasonably believes that the relevant wrongdoing falls within that person’s remit and that the information disclosed, and any allegation contained in it, are substantially true.
On 23 July 2014 the Minister made the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 (Section 7(2)) Order 2014, which lists 72 state bodies as the appropriate recipient for certain types of disclosures. The Central Bank is the appropriate recipient for all matters relating to contraventions of provisions of financial services legislation as defined in the Central Bank (Supervision and Enforcement) Act 2013.
For further information on the PDA, see our related briefing here.
Reports on Protected Disclosures
The PDA requires every public body to prepare and publish an annual report on the protected disclosures it received in the previous year. In addition to State departments and local authorities, the term ‘public body’ covers:
- an entity established by or under any enactment (excluding the Companies Act), statutory instrument or charter or any scheme administered by a Government Minister;
- a company if a majority of its shares are held by or on behalf of a Government Minister, as well as a subsidiary of such a company;
- an entity established or appointed by the Government or a Government Minister;
- an entity that is directly or indirectly controlled by any of the above;
- an entity on which functions are conferred by or under any enactment (other than the Companies Act), statutory instrument or charter; and
- an institution of higher education in receipt of public funding.
The report must cover the number of protected disclosures made to the public body and the action taken in response, if any. The information must be provided in a form which does not enable the identification of the persons involved. The report must be prepared and published not later than 30 June each year and cover the immediately preceding year.
Central Bank - Protected Disclosures Report
The Central Bank’s 2015 Report on Protected Disclosures was the first published by the Central Bank under the PDA and covered the period from 1 July 2014 – 30 June 2015. According to that Report, the Central Bank received one protected disclosure report during the reporting period, the matters reported were investigated thoroughly by an independent third party in line with Central Bank policy and the outcome of the investigation was communicated to relevant parties.
The Central Bank’s 2016 Report on Protected Disclosures was published on 30 June 2016 and covers the period from 1 July 2015 – 30 June 2016. According to the Report, the Central Bank received 44 protected disclosures during the reporting period, investigated the matters reported and took appropriate action to address any issues that arose.
As is clear from the above, the past 12 months have seen a dramatic increase in the number of protected disclosures made to the Central Bank as compared to the previous 12 months. However, it is not possible at this stage to say whether this reflects an increased willingness to whistleblow or whether it is a temporary increase prompted by one or more specific matters.
This is only the second year in which public bodies have been required to prepare and publish Protected Disclosures Reports. However, it is already clear that despite the succinct nature of the Reports, they will, over time, provide a useful insight into the types of issues giving rise to disclosures and the number of reports being made. While traditionally whistleblowing and whistle-blowers have been treated with a degree of suspicion, a sustained increase in the number of disclosures being made over a period of years will provide useful evidence that this suspicion is fading. This would in turn confirm that the PDA is achieving its overall objective of facilitating workers in raising concerns about suspected wrongdoing in the work place and ultimately of deterring that wrongdoing from happening.