Latest Garda infighting scandal shows need to repeal Official Secrets Act to encourage whistleblowers
Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy has said that the latest Garda infighting scandal between civilian head of Human Resources John Barrett and Garda personnel has once again highlighted the absolute necessity to urgently repeal the Official Secrets Act and replace it with legislation that strikes a balance between the vital aims of maintaining the security of the State while removing barriers for public servants who feel compelled to report wrongdoing.
Catherine Murphy TD said:
“We have whistleblowers legislation which seems wholly inadequate for public servants including members of An Garda Siochána and the Defence Forces who are subject to the application of the Official Secrets Act. There appears to me to be an inherent contradiction between the two and one effectively negates the ability of those in certain professions to come forward and report wrongdoing without fear of being found in breach of the Official Secrets Act.
“In November 2016 Mr Barrett had undertaken to roll out an ethics code within the force and that code encourages speaking up where wrongdoing is witnessed yet the Official Secrets Act subjects members of the force to potential punishment if they speak out. Today we learn that Mr Barrett has stepped down from the Policing Authority’s Ethics Committee which drew up the code.”
Deputy Murphy added: “In a recent sitting of the Public Accounts Committee it was confirmed that internal correspondence between sections within An Garda Siochána suggested he would potentially find himself in breach of the Official Secrets Act and therefore guilty of a criminal offence. How many times has such a scenario arisen without the glare of the public domain and how many scandals have gone unreported because of it? The Official Secrets Act has effectively been used as a means of blocking public-interest led disclosures. If we want to create a public and political space where the culture allows for people to easily come forward and report wrongdoing then we must legislate to create that culture. That is one of a number of measures which will help to stamp corruption out of Irish public life and it is why the Social Democrats manifesto in 2016 called for the repeal of the Official Secrets Act.”ENDS13 June 2017