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Saturday 23 August 2014

Politicians not above law over whistleblowers

Philip Ryan

Published 13/06/2014 | 02:30

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Dail, Leinster House, Dublin, Ireland
Dail, Leinster House, Dublin, Ireland

MEMBERS of the Oireachtas have been warned they may face prosecution if they do not properly handle information they receive from whistleblowers.

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The warning follows a number of high-profile incidents on the floor of the Dail in which TDs revealed confidential information from whistleblowers.

Dail privilege is being used regularly by politicians to reveal allegations of garda misconduct and other complaints from members of the public.

However, a briefing note sent to Oireachtas members on Wednesday urged caution when dealing with these allegations – as it could potentially lead to legal repercussions for both politicians and whistleblowers.

Deputies and senators were warned that if they held information which could be of assistance to garda investigations, they could be committing an offence by not handing it over to gardai.

Statements and comment made in both chambers are protected by privilege – but parliamentarians were warned they could still be prosecuted under data protection laws if they are in possession of sensitive private information.

Implications

Members of Oireachtas Committees were also warned not to examine matters that do not come under their remit.

"Whilst individual members are free to look at whatever matters they wish, Committees are subjected to additional restrictions that they may only examine matters which fall within their remit," the note read.

"Therefore, not all matters raised by whistleblowers can in fact be lawfully examined by a Committee.

"A Committee which acts outside of remit may be judicially reviewed in court."

The letter also points out that there are "few protections" for whistleblowers who report matters to Oireachtas members.

However, the forthcoming Protected Disclosure Bill will allow for some protection in limited circumstances.

Irish Independent

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