Office of the Ombudsman Policy on Protected Disclosure Reporting in the Workplace

Updated January 2023

1. Introduction

The Protected Disclosures Act 2014 provides safeguards for workers who raise legitimate concerns regarding actual or potential wrongdoing in the workplace. It was significantly amended by the Protected Disclosures (Amendment) Act 2022. This policy will refer to both Acts as “the Act” unless otherwise stated.

The Office of the Ombudsman (the Office) is committed to addressing all legitimate concerns relating to wrongdoing in the workplace, as described in the Act, and to providing the necessary support for staff who raise genuine concerns. Under this policy a worker is entitled to raise concerns or disclose information without fear of penalisation. Whether a disclosure is a ‘protected disclosure’ or not will depend on the way in which the disclosure is made.

2. Key principles underlying policy

This policy is informed by the following key principles:

  • All reports of wrongdoing in the workplace should, as a matter of routine, be the subject of an initial assessment and any appropriate follow-up action;
  • The focus of the process should primarily be on the wrongdoing reported, and whether it is a relevant wrongdoing, and not on the reporting person;
  • The identity of the reporting person and any person concerned should be adequately protected; and
  • Provided that the reporting person discloses information relating to a relevant wrongdoing, in an appropriate manner, and based on a reasonable belief, no penalisation should arise.

3. What is a protected disclosure?

A protected disclosure is a disclosure of information which, in the reasonable belief of a worker, tends to show one or more relevant wrongdoings; came to the attention of the worker in a work-related context; and is disclosed in the manner prescribed in the Act.

4. To whom does this policy apply?

This policy applies to all workers at all levels in each of the statutory bodies in the Office as follows:- the Office of the Ombudsman; the Office of the Information Commissioner; the Standards in Public Office Commission; the Commission for Public Service Appointments; the Commissioner for Environmental Information; and the Office of the Protected Disclosures Commissioner. The 2022 Act widens the definition of worker and it now includes current or former:

  • Employees
  • Contractors and agency staff
  • Interns
  • Volunteers
  • Individuals on work experience
  • Shareholders
  • Members of a management or supervisory body
  • Job applicants

Any reference in this policy to the Office refers to the Office in its entirety including all of its component bodies.

5. What type of disclosure is not covered by the policy?

The aim of this policy is to encourage and enable workers to raise a concern or disclose information internally rather than overlooking the problem or “blowing the whistle” externally. It does not cover workplace complaints or personal grievances.

6. What is a relevant wrongdoing?

The Act contains a list of things that are relevant wrongdoings:

  • that an offence has been, is being or is likely to be committed,
  • that a person has failed, is failing or is likely to fail to comply with any legal obligation, other than one arising under the worker’s contract of employment or other contract whereby the worker undertakes to do or perform personally any work or services,
  • that a miscarriage of justice has occurred, is occurring or is likely to occur,
  • that the health or safety of any individual has been, is being or is likely to be endangered,
  • that the environment has been, is being or is likely to be damaged,
  • that an unlawful or otherwise improper use of funds or resources of a public body, or of other public money, has occurred, is occurring or is likely to occur,
  • that an act or omission by or on behalf of a public body is oppressive, discriminatory
  • or grossly negligent or constitutes gross mismanagement, or
  • that information tending to show any matter falling within any of the preceding paragraphs has been, is being or is likely to be concealed or destroyed or an attempt has been, is being or is likely to be made to conceal or destroy such information.

However, ‘interpersonal grievances’ exclusively affecting the reporting person, meaning grievances about interpersonal conflicts between the reporting person and other workers, or complaints to or about the Office concerning the reporting person exclusively, do not fall

within the meaning of ‘relevant wrongdoing’.

In addition, a disclosure of information about wrongdoing carried out by someone outside this Office is not a disclosure of ‘relevant wrongdoing’ if this Office’s function is to detect, investigate or prosecute that wrongdoing.

7. Safeguards against penalisation

A worker who makes a disclosure and has a reasonable belief that the disclosure relates to a relevant wrongdoing will not be penalised by this organisation, even if the concerns or disclosure turn out to be unfounded.

Penalisation includes suspension/dismissal, disciplinary action, demotion, discrimination, threats or other unfavourable treatment arising from the disclosure on the basis of a reasonable belief for doing so. If you believe that you are being subjected to penalisation as a result of making a disclosure under this policy you should inform your manager or a senior manager immediately.

Workers who penalise or retaliate against those who have raised concerns under this policy will be subjected to disciplinary action.

Workers who make a disclosure are not expected to prove the truth of an allegation. However they must have a reasonable belief that there are grounds for their concern.

This policy does not cover a disclosure where the worker knowingly conveys false, misleading, frivolous or vexatious information. If it transpires that a worker makes a disclosure, which they know to be false or do not believe to be true, the Office may take disciplinary or other appropriate action. This policy does not relate to disclosures of wrongdoing if the matter is one which it is the function of the worker or the Office to detect, investigate or prosecute.

A disclosure should also be made where there has been a breach of Civil Service policy such that harm may be arising to others or to the Organisation.

8. How to raise a concern or make a disclosure in this Office

The following individuals have been designated to follow up on concerns raised through this procedure:

Elaine Cassidy (Director General)

Siobhán Byrne (Executive Unit)

Stephanie Duffy (Executive Unit)

Aidan Moore (Executive Unit)

You may make your report in writing by email to a dedicated mailbox – – to which only the above designated persons have access. Before raising a concern, you may wish to speak with one of the designated persons, who will be able to explain in more detail how your report will be dealt with.

In the event that your report relates to one or more of the above designated persons or to the Ombudsman, you may instead make your report directly to Liam Duffy as Personnel Officer.

A concern may be raised anonymously. However, on a practical level, it may be difficult to properly investigate anonymous reports. Workers are encouraged to put their name to a disclosure in order to facilitate appropriate follow-up. This will make it easier for us to assess the disclosure and take appropriate action including an investigation if necessary.

Every effort will be made to preserve the confidentiality of the disclosure.

These five individuals are the only members of staff in the Office authorised by the Ombudsman under s. 6(2) of the Act to receive a protected disclosure. However, an employee who makes a disclosure outside of this channel will still be protected against penalisation.

9. How the Office will deal with your disclosure

Once a concern has been raised to the individuals listed in section 8 above, the recipient will need to clarify if the concern is appropriate to this procedure or is a matter more appropriate to another procedure, for example the Grievance procedure. The Office will acknowledge your report within 7 days.

Having clarified that the matter is appropriate to this procedure, an initial assessment of the facts will be carried out to examine what actions we need to take to deal with the matter. This may involve simply clarifying certain matters, clearing up misunderstandings or resolving the matter by agreed action without the need for an investigation. The Office will decide if there is prima facie evidence that a relevant wrongdoing has occurred. If the matter is closed at this stage you will be given a reason for that decision.

If an investigation is warranted, it will be conducted fairly and objectively. The form and scope of the investigation will depend on the subject matter of the disclosure. It may be that the disclosure is such that it is required to be referred immediately to the appropriate external authorities or requires some other immediate action on our part.

We will do our best to keep you informed of the steps being taken by us in response to your disclosure and we will endeavour to keep you informed of how we propose to deal with the matter and any outcomes. However, it is important to note that sometimes the need for confidentiality and legal considerations will prevent us from giving you specific details of an investigation. In any case we will give you feedback on the disclosure after three months from the day we acknowledge receipt and every three months until the matter is resolved on written request.

If, as part of initial assessment or follow-up, you are asked to meet to discuss your report, you can choose whether or not you want to be accompanied by a colleague or Union Representative at any meeting.

10. How to raise a concern or make a disclosure outside of this Office

The Act also makes provision for a protected disclosure by a worker to a prescribed person (outside this office) where the worker reasonably believes that the relevant wrongdoing falls within the description of the matters in respect of which the person is prescribed. The worker must also reasonably believe that the information contained in the disclosure and any allegation contained in it is “substantially true”. This is a higher threshold than for an internal disclosure. A large number of regulators have been prescribed and the list is contained in SI 367/2020. See:- S.I. No. 367/2020 - Protected Disclosures Act 2014 (Disclosure to Prescribed Persons) Order 2020

As it happens, two prescribed persons on the above list of regulators are located in this Office. They are:

The Secretary to the Standards in Public Office Commission

You can make a protected disclosure to this person in relation to:

  1. All matters relating to the supervision of the Ethics in Public Office Acts 1995 and 2001 insofar as they apply to office holders and members of the Oireachtas including investigations and reports in relation to possible contraventions of those Acts.
  2. All matters relating to overseeing of the disclosure of donations to political parties and the monitoring of limitations on political party expenditure as set out in the Electoral Acts 1992 to 2014 and the Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices Act 1938.

The Director of the Commission for Public Service Appointments

You can make a protected disclosure to this person in relation to all matters relating to the setting of standards for recruitment and selection for public service appointments including the monitoring and auditing of public sector recruitment and selection processes.

If you cannot identify an appropriate prescribed person to deal with your report, it is also possible for any worker to report a wrongdoing to the Office of the Protected Disclosure Commission (OPDC), which is part of this Office. Further information about the role of that Office is available at Office of the Protected Disclosure Commission website.

11. Disclosure to the Minister

A worker who is employed in a public body can also avail of the protections under the Act if he or she makes a disclosure to the Minister who has a statutory function in relation to the public body. That means that in relation to this Office a disclosure can be made to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. You should be aware that the Minister is required by the Protected Disclosures Act to transmit any report that it receives directly to the Protected Disclosures Commissioner, without considering the report or any information contained in it.

For a disclosure to the Minister to be a protected disclosure, one or more of the following conditions must be met:

  • The worker has previously made a disclosure of substantially the same information to their employer, other responsible person, prescribed person, or relevant Minister, as the case may be, but no feedback has been provided to the worker in response to the disclosure within the period allowed, or, where feedback has been provided, the reporting person reasonably believes that there has been no follow- up or that there has been inadequate follow-up;
  • The worker reasonably believes the head of the public body concerned is complicit in the relevant wrongdoing reported;
  • The worker reasonably believes that the disclosure contains information about a relevant wrongdoing that may constitute an imminent or manifest danger to the public interest, such as where there is an emergency situation or a risk of irreversible damage.

12. Disclosure to other persons

A worker may still benefit from the protections under the Act even if a disclosure is not made in one of the aforementioned ways provided the worker reasonably believes that the information disclosed in the report, and any allegation contained in it, are substantially true and one of the following applies:

  • The worker has previously reported substantially the same information either internally, externally or to the Minister and no appropriate action was taken, or
  • The worker reasonably believes that the relevant wrongdoing may constitute an imminent or manifest danger to the public interest, or
  • The worker reasonably believes that he or she is at risk of penalisation by reporting externally to a prescribed person, the OPDC or the Minister, or
  • The worker reasonably believes that if he or she were to report externally to a prescribed person, the OPDC or the Minister, there is a low prospect of the relevant wrongdoing being addressed due to the circumstances of the case.

13. Confidentiality

The Office will take all reasonable steps to treat disclosures made through this policy in a confidential and sensitive manner. The Office will not disclose the reporter’s identity without their consent, unless it is required by law or necessary for the effective investigation of the relevant wrongdoing or one of the other very limited exceptions under the legislation applies. Every effort will be made to notify the worker in circumstances where his or her identity may be disclosed.

14. Records

Records of concerns raised, including the outcome, will be maintained for a minimum of three years after the closure of the case. These records will be maintained in a confidential and secure place. A summary report on all protected disclosures will be included in Ombudsman’s Annual Report.

15.Review of policy

The policy will be reviewed at minimum intervals of three years or when required by the Office’s Management Team [January 2026].