Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster has welcomed the Public Accounts Committee’s acceptance of her proposal to write to the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee TD recommending that she request an independent external investigator to carry out an investigation into a litany of financial and record-keeping irregularities at the Irish Prison Service.
The Louth TD also raised the matter of the protection of whistle-blowers at the Irish Prison Service, specifically a case which had previously been widely reported in the media around a former prison officer who made a protected disclosure at a time when he was still working for the prison service.
Teachta Munster said: “These irregularities include an apparent lack of adequate record keeping relating to the Staff Mess as well as the Prisoners Assistance Programme Funds, that should be solely for the benefit of prisoners, being used for other purposes. This included funds amounting to €23,000 in total in two prisons being cashed by governors in 2018.
“In both prisons, record-keeping was insufficiently detailed to demonstrate that the cash was being used for appropriate purposes.
“It is to be welcomed that the committee accepted my proposal asking the Minister to arrange for an investigation to commence. But I am disappointed that the witnesses today would not address other very serious matters that I raised today regarding the protection of whistle-blowers.
“It’s worth noting that many of these financial discrepancies only came to light as a result of protected disclosures.
“We have a situation here where a protected disclosure was made as a result of a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee, and now witnesses from the IPS and the Department of Justice won’t answer questions from members of that committee.
“The protected disclosure came about following a Public Accounts Committee meeting in 2019 where a number of allegations relating to fraud in the IPS were aired.
“The person who made the protected disclosure has made allegations that the IPS, the Department of Justice and then-Minister Charlie Flanagan did not protect him from penalisation.
“That is despite the fact that a judge had ruled in 2017 that he had been the subject of penalisation and he subsequently received an award of €30,000 from the Workplace Relations Commission.
“It is my opinion that we need additional independent oversight of the Irish Prison Service to deal with matters of this kind.
“These situations are not ordinary in any organisation, let alone that they can carry on for years through multiple reviews.
“An important part of this process is the appointment of an independent external investigator into the aforementioned issues.”