An Bord Pleanála
Code of Practice
on Confidential Disclosures
As adopted by An Bord Pleanála on the 8th of June, 2011
1.1 Paragraph 2.11 of the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies (2009) requires that An Bord Pleanála should put in place procedures whereby members or staff may, in confidence, raise concerns about possible irregularities in financial reporting or other matters and for ensuring meaningful follow-up of matters raised in this way. This process is classified as “confidential disclosures” but is often also referred to as “whistleblowing”. In effect the process means action by a Board or staff member to disclose malpractice or wrong doing.
1.2 An Bord Pleanála’s Policy and Code of Practice on Confidential Disclosures is designed to allow Board/Staff members to disclose legitimate concerns about possible malpractice/wrongdoing without fear of recrimination. This is necessary to uphold the reputation of the organisation and maintain public confidence. It would be most undesirable to allow any malpractice/wrongdoing to continue or remain undetected.Members and Staff of An Bord Pleanála as public servants have a duty to the State and the organisation to bring legitimate concerns about possible malpractice/wrongdoing to the attention of those who may be in a position to deal with those concerns in a meaningful way.
1.3 A central feature of this policy and code is that it takes into account that in certain circumstances and for various reasons Board/Staff members may not feel comfortable in reporting certain matters through the normal reporting channels or may not have confidence that same will be properly addressed through those channels. This could be due to concerns relating to the seriousness of the matter in question or that it might be felt that raising same may be considered to be disloyal to colleagues or the organisation. In some circumstances the person with a concern over a matter may fear that raising same may result in harassment, victimisation or difficulties in member/staff relationships.
1.4 An Bord Pleanála is committed to the highest possible standards of openness probity and accountability and in line with this commitment encourages all Board/Staff members with genuine concerns about any aspect of the Board’s work or operations to voice any such concerns. This policy and code makes it clear that Board/Staff members can do so without fear of victimisation or harassment and that their concerns will be investigated and appropriate action taken where necessary. However it should also be clearly understood that where a person communicates or disseminates information knowing it to be false or vexatious or who was reckless as to whether it is false or vexatious this will be considered to be a very serious matter which can lead to activation of the disciplinary code.
2. AIMS AND SCOPE OF THIS POLICY
2.1 This policy aims to:
• Encourage employees/members to feel confident in raising concerns about possible malpractice or wrongdoing.
• Provide clear avenues for employees/members to raise those concerns and receive feedback on any follow-up action taken.
• Ensure that employees/members receive a response to their concerns and that they are aware of how to pursue their concerns further if they are not satisfied.
• Reassure employees/members that they will be protected from possible harassment or victimisation if they have a reasonable belief that they have made any disclosure in good faith.
2.2 This policy is intended to generally cover major concerns that fall outside the scope of other internal procedures such as the existing Grievance and Disciplinary code or the codes covering Anti-Bullying and Anti-Sexual Harassment and Anti-Harassment in the Workplace. In this context it is not appropriate to use this policy/code to lodge a grievance relating to a Board/Staff member’s own employment. It may however in certain circumstances be the case that confidential disclosure may trigger activation of the other codes.
2.3 Confidential disclosures may relate to concerns about matters such as the following:
• Conduct which is a criminal offence or breach of law including possible fraud or corruption.
• Conduct which breaches An Bord Pleanála’s Code of Conduct.
• The unauthorised/irregular use of public funds or the making of false claims for expenses.
• Health and safety risks, including risks to the public as well as other members/employees.
• Sexual or physical harassment/abuse/bullying of persons in the workplace.
• Other unethical or improper conduct.
2.4 Thus, any serious concerns that employees/members have about any aspect of An Bord Pleanála’s work or the conduct of staff or members or others acting on behalf of the organisation, can be reported under this policy/code.
3.1 Preventing Harassment or Victimisation
3.2 An Bord Pleanála is committed to best practice and high standards in corporate governance in carrying out its functions. This includes being supportive of staff and members in the workplace.
3.3 An Bord Pleanála recognises that the decision to report a concern can be a difficult one to make, not least because of a possible fear of negative reactions from those alleged to be involved in malpractice or from other work colleagues. If allegations are true (or the person raising the concern has good and genuine reasons for considering that they may be true) persons reporting them have nothing to fear because they will be doing their duty to the organisation, the State and to the public.
An Bord Pleanála shall not penalise or threaten penalisation against a person for having made a confidential disclosure in good faith (this shall not apply to any person who communicates or disseminates information knowing it to be false, misleading, frivolous or vexatious, or who was reckless as to whether it was false, misleading, frivolous or vexatious).
In this regard ‘penalisation’ means any act or omission by An Bord Pleanála, that affects a Board/Staff member to his or her detriment with respect to any term or condition of his or her employment, and includes –
(a) suspension, lay-off or dismissal,
(b) the threat of suspension, lay-off or dismissal,
(c) demotion or loss of opportunity for promotion,
(d) transfer of duties, change of location of place of work, reduction in wages or change in working hours,
(e) the imposition or the administering of any discipline, reprimand or other penalty (including a financial penalty),
(f) unfair treatment, including selection for redundancy,
(g) coercion, intimidation or harassment,
(h) discrimination, disadvantage or adverse treatment,
(i) injury, damage or loss, and
(j) threats of reprisal,
Any Board/Staff member who feels, despite the Board’s commitment to preventing harassment or victimisation as a result of making a confidential disclosure in good faith, that they are or have been so penalised can raise this matter under the Grievance and Disciplinary Procedures in place in An Bord Pleanála.
An Bord Pleanála will strive to protect the identity of any Board/Staff member who raises a concern and does not wish his/her name to be disclosed. However it must be appreciated that the investigation process may reveal the source of the information and a statement from the person bringing the matter to attention may be required as part of any investigation. However should it appear necessary to make the identity of the person making the disclosure known to a third party the Board will discuss this matter in advance with the person making the disclosure and consider any views/concerns he or she may have prior to proceeding.
3.5 Anonymous Allegations
This policy encourages Board/Staff members to put their name to their allegation. Concerns expressed anonymously are much more difficult to investigate, but they will be considered at the discretion of the panel referred to in 5.1.
3.6 In exercising the discretion, the following factors will be among those taken into account:-
- the seriousness of the issues raised;
- the credibility of the concern; and
- the likelihood of confirming the allegation from attributable sources.
3.7 Untrue Allegations
If a Board/Staff member makes an allegation in good faith, but it is not confirmed by the investigation, no action will be taken against the person making the allegation. If, however, a person makes an allegation frivolously, maliciously or for personal gain, disciplinary action may be taken.
4. HOW TO RAISE A CONCERN
4.1 As a first step, a Board/Staff member should normally raise concerns with:-
- the person’s immediate Supervisor or, where relevant, the Head of the person’s particular work area.
If the Board/Staff member feels his/her concern is so serious or that it concerns an issue relating to the organisation as a whole or alternatively, that it concerns an issue which relates to their own particular work area, he/she may consider it more convenient or appropriate to raise it with the holder of any of the following posts.
The Head of HR
The Head of Internal Audit
The Director of Corporate Affairs
A Director of Planning
The Chief Officer
The Deputy Chairperson of An Bord Pleanála
The Chairperson of An Bord Pleanála
4.2 Should the Board/Staff member consider it appropriate he/she may also contact the Head of the Board’s Audit Committee.
4.3 Concerns are best raised in writing. The Board/Staff member should seek to set out the background and history of the concern, giving names, dates and places where possible, and the reason why he/she is particularly concerned about the situation. If a person does not feel confident initially to put the concern in writing, he/she may telephone or meet the appropriate officer.
4.4 Although a Board/Staff member raising a concern is not expected to prove the truth of an allegation, he/she will need to demonstrate to the person contacted that there are reasonable grounds for the concern.
4.5 A Board/Staff member can obtain help, advice and guidance on raising concerns from any of the officers named above.
4.6 A Board/Staff member may wish to consider discussing his/her concern with a colleague first and may find it easier to raise the matter if there are two (or more) persons who have had the same experience or concern.
4.7 If a Board/Staff member does not wish to raise the concern personally, he/she may invite his/her trade union or professional association to raise the issue.
5. HOW AN BORD PLEANÁLA WILL RESPOND
5.1 The action taken by An Bord Pleanála will depend on the nature of the concern. The matters raised may:
• be resolved locally through the person with whom the concern is raised if this can be done to the satisfaction of the person raising the concern and the person with whom the concern is raised is satisfied that the issue can be satisfactorily resolved at this level and there are no wider implications for the organisation;
• be investigated internally in accordance with a procedure to be determined in each instance by the office holders in the positions of Chairperson, Chief Officer and Director of Corporate Affairs and the person to whom the concern has been reported. In the event of any of these office holders being referred to or in any way potentially implicated in the alleged irregularity alternative persons in the positions referred to in 4.1 shall be nominated by either the Chairperson or the Chief Officer to form a panel to determine the nature of the investigation;
• form the subject of an independent inquiry (conducted by external consultants);
• be referred to An Garda Síochana.
The decision on which of the last 3 options is to be pursued shall be taken by the panel referred to in the second bullet point (subject to similar revisions if necessary). It is accepted that a disclosure may result in more than one of the above options being activated or completed.
5.2 In order to protect individuals and the reputation of An Bord Pleanála, initial enquiries will be made internally to decide whether an investigation is warranted and, if so, what form it should take. The initial enquiries will be made by the person to whom the alleged irregularity is reported. That person shall report initially to the Chief Officer or the Chairperson who shall initiate any required investigation as referred to at 5.1 if a resolution in accordance with the first bullet point of 5.1 is not possible.
5.3 The amount of contact between the officers considering the issues and the person raising the issue will depend on the nature of the matters raised, the potential difficulties involved in carrying out an investigation and the clarity of the information provided. If necessary, further information will be sought from any person who may have relevant information or from the person who reported the concern.
5.4 Where any meeting is arranged in respect of a confidential disclosure between the officer(s) considering/investigating such a disclosure and the person who made the disclosure or a person mentioned in such a disclosure the Board/Staff member concerned can (subject to due regard to any necessary confidentiality requirements relating to internal information) be accompanied by a Trade Union or professional association representative or a work colleague.
5.5 Steps will be taken to minimise any difficulties which a person raising an issue may experience or feel he/she may experience as a result of raising the concern. For instance, if a person is required to give evidence in criminal or disciplinary proceedings, he/she will be advised about the procedure.
5.6 An Bord Pleanála accepts that persons raising issues of the nature in question need to be assured that the matter has been properly addressed. In this context he/she will be informed of the substantive outcome of the raising of the concern and of any investigation of the matter raised, including the name(s) of the person(s) who carried out any such investigation. The Board is also committed to keeping the person who made a confidential disclosure informed of the progress of the matter on an on-going basis prior to the substantive outcome of same. The above commitments are however subject to any necessary confidentiality requirements which might arise in respect of information furnished/obtained in the course of such an investigation.
Concerns raised in writing will be acknowledged in writing within 5 working days of receipt of same.
5.7 In respect of matters raised which involve or name another Board/Staff member in the context of a confidential disclosure An Bord Pleanála accepts that natural justice principles will apply prior to the conclusion of any investigation into the matters raised. The application of these principles will include but will not necessarily be limited to affording such a named person the right to see and consider any claims which may be made in respect of their involvement/conduct in the matter raised and any evidence which may have been found by any investigation into same and affording the named person sufficient opportunity to make a full response to same prior to the conclusion of any such investigation.
5.8 If a matter is raised under this procedure, the person with whom it is raised will advise the Chairperson, or in the absence of that person the Deputy Chairperson or Chief Officer, if the matter has potential to be of serious consequence for the organisation.
6. HOW THE MATTER CAN BE TAKEN FURTHER
6.1 This policy is intended to provide Board/Staff members with an avenue to raise concerns within the organisation. An Bord Pleanála hopes that persons raising relevant matters will be satisfied with any investigation carried out by or on behalf of the organisation. If he/she is not, and if he/she feels it is sufficiently serious to take the matter outside the organisation, the appropriate persons to contact are the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government or the Secretary General of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, An Garda Síochana (if one believes that a criminal act has been committed) or a solicitor (if one believes that he/she has suffered loss as a result of what has happened and/or wishes to receive further personal advice). Unless there are particular reasons for not so doing a Board/Staff member who feels it necessary to raise a matter externally should inform the Chairperson or Deputy Chairperson or Chief Officer as considered appropriate that he/she is so doing.
6.2 If a Board/Staff member takes the matter outside the organisation, he/she needs to ensure that confidential information relating to the work of the Board or cases under consideration by the Board is not disclosed.
7. THE RESPONSIBLE OFFICER
7.1 The Secretary has overall responsibility for the maintenance and operation of this policy/code. A record of concerns raised and the outcomes will be maintained by the Secretary but in a form which does not endanger confidentiality. The Secretary will report as necessary to the Board of An Bord Pleanála.
Last modified: 15/12/2011