By Sean Murray - Irish Examiner - 04.10.2022
The Government is set to spend up to €16m on external investigations into allegations of bullying, harassment, sexual harassment and related matters in the civil and public service.
Under the terms of the contracts agreed, investigators may be called in to examine allegations made within government departments, ministers’ offices, local authorities, third-level institutions, schools, An Garda Síochána, the Irish Prison Service, and the Defence Forces.
The investigators will also be required to look at complaints of 'Trust in Care' services such as the HSE and other organisations within this area, such as handling allegations of abuse against staff members or the policy for health service employees to uphold the dignity and welfare of patients.
These investigation services will be available to “all employees and individuals” to whom the department/body in question “wishes to extend their duty of care”, documents stated. Such services may only be called upon after the informal stages of a complaint in-house, as “every effort is made to resolve such complaints at an early stage by way of mediation”.
Within their remit, the investigators will be tasked with investigating the complaint, afford “fair procedure and natural justice” to the complainant and respondent and issue a report on the findings based on the evidence presented.
The investigators will also provide a rationale for the findings in respect of each element of the complaint, determine whether each element is upheld or not and provide an “overall finding concluding whether or not an event occurred or circumstances exist and the extent, if any, to which the event did occur or the circumstances do exist”.
The Office of Government Procurement said it is permissible to highlight “any procedural flaws with the system” during an investigation “but no other activities outside the scope” of set terms of reference should be undertaken.
They can also implement an “early warning” system to communicate concerns, should delays arise at any stage during a case.
Report may be used for legal proceedings
The investigator’s report may be used for legal proceedings issued or complaints made to the Workplace Relations Commission at a later date.
In its annual report, the Workplace Relations Commission said that disputes in the public sector last year largely reflected issues arising from pay-related issues to job evaluation and regrading claims. In all, the WRC received 689 requests for conciliation services in 2021.
Last month, the Houses of the Oireachtas was urged to reveal how many people have made complaints about being bullied or sexually harassed by TDs and senators in Leinster House. The Oireachtas had lodged a separate tender process for independent mediators to handle bullying and sexual harassment complaints against public representatives and parliamentary staff. The three-year contract is worth more than €150,000 and could be extended subject to “ongoing need”.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can contact Dignity4Patients, whose helpline is open Monday to Thursday 10am to 4pm.