Saturday 14 December 2019

Clarity sought on whistleblower law after Ansbacher revelations

Attorney General Maire Whelan
Attorney General Maire Whelan
Mary Harney
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

THE Attorney General is to be asked to clarify whether the Government official behind the Ansbacher dossier should receive protection from potential legal action under whistleblower legislation.

The Dail Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is to seek the opinion of the Government's legal advisor, Maire Whelan, after receiving conflicting legal opionon on the issue.

Department of Jobs official Gerard Ryan submitted a dossier to the committee earlier this month alleging there was evidence to suggest former senior politicians from Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the Progressive Democrats held offshore accounts to avoid paying tax.

He claims the evidence was not properly investigated by several state agencies who were alerted to it over the past decade.

Mr Ryan said he was relying on legal protections contained in new whistleblower legislation, which allows officials who highlight wrongdoing to do so without fear of legal reprisal.

However, the Oireachtas' parliamentary legal advice office told the committee that Mr Ryan's disclosure was not covered by the terms of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 because he was deemed to be an investigator.

Mr Ryan had acted as a designated officer inquiring into the Ansbacher affair between 1998 and 2004, when his investigation was wound up by the then Enterprise Minister Mary Harney.

Subsequently, Mr Ryan wrote to the committee enclosing legal advice from senior counsel John Hennessy, who was of the view the official was covered by the legislation.

PAC chairman John McGuinness said Mr Ryan had "made a significant disclosure" and "now appeared to be in difficulty".

"I don't think it is fair to Mr Ryan to leave a stand-off between one piece of advice and another. Clarity should be brought about," he said.

"I think that we need to get a view from them (the parliamentary advice office) and from the Attorney General in relation to the legislation itself."

The committee is to question representatives of Revenue Commissioners next Thursday about what action it took in relation to information it was supplied by Mr Ryan.

The PAC is expected to decide after that meeting whether Mr Ryan is to be called as a witness at a future date.

His dossier named eight former Fianna Fail ministers, including the late Taoiseach Charles Haughey, and a prominent TD with the party. A former Fine Gael minister was also named.

Four of those on the list are no longer alive.

Gardai are currently examining a 5,500-page file prepared by Mr Ryan relating to allegations of tax-evasion by the politicians.

The file was sent to the fraud bureau in recent weeks having been with Jobs Minister Richard Bruton for approval for the previous two years.

Mr Bruton said the files had been forwarded "following finalisation of various procedural matters".

Irish Independent

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