Susheela Math is Managing Solicitor of Transparency Legal Advice Centre.
Having commenced practice in April of this year, Transparency Legal Advice Centre was formally launched on 22 September 2016 by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohoe TD.
The Minister’s Department is responsible for the implementation of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 (“PDA”) and Transparency Legal Advice Centre is the country’s only independent law centre specialising in providing advice to those who wish to speak up about wrongdoing under the legislation. The launch was the culmination of a lengthy journey by Transparency International Ireland (“TI Ireland”) to ensure that whistleblowers are provided with the free, accessible legal advice they so often need to speak up safely.
TI Ireland has been working in the area of whistleblowing since 2009, as research shows that it is one of the most effective tools in exposing corruption and other wrongdoing. In its 2010 report, “An Alternative to Silence,” TI Ireland set out case studies of workers who had nonetheless suffered as a result of exposing such issues. The report identified gaps in the legal protection afforded to whistleblowers and called for new, comprehensive legislation.
TI Ireland subsequently worked closely with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on the PDA, drawing upon its research findings and the experiences of callers to its Speak Up service. Speak Up has provided information, referral advice and advocacy support to over 800 clients since it was established in 2011. The free service can be accessed on the phone or online and is aimed at whistleblowers, as well as witnesses and victims of corruption and other wrongdoing.
The PDA marked an important step forward by providing, for the first time, a safety net for workers in all sectors of the Irish economy. Those who are thinking about speaking up should attempt to do so in a way that meets the conditions of the PDA in order to ensure that they are protected against risks such as penalisation, adverse legal proceedings and indeed losing their livelihoods through dismissal.
TI Ireland produced a Speak Up Safely guide and video to assist workers in navigating the new legislation. However, a need remained for tailored legal advice for workers on the application of the PDA to their own particular circumstances, from solicitors familiar with this relatively new practice area. This was underlined by calls from whistleblowers to the Speak Up helpline almost trebling in volume since the PDA became law. TI Ireland was aware of a number of whistleblowers over the years who had spent large sums of money on legal fees and in one case had become homeless as a result.
Establishing Transparency Legal Advice Centre to address these issues took over two years and included:
As much of this work as possible was undertaken by TI Ireland’s Chief Executive, John Devitt, and volunteers and thereafter TI Ireland’s Legal Counsel (now appointed as Managing Solicitor of Transparency Legal Advice Centre), Susheela Math. However, external specialist support was also required on a number of occasions.
PILA provided invaluable support by arranging pro bono legal services from firms including A&L Goodbody, William Fry, MacDowell Purcell and Eversheds. These services helped ensure regulatory compliance by the law centre and a smooth set-up. As a result, free legal advice is now available nationwide to anyone looking to bring damage to the environment, health and safety risks, improper use of public money and other wrongdoing to light. Transparency Legal Advice Centre seeks to assist such individuals in reporting the right information to the right person in the right way, thereby reducing their risks and allowing them to help create a better society.
Free legal advice for workers seeking to make a disclosure under the PDA or as otherwise provided for in Irish law is available via the Speak Up helpline on 1800 844 866. Transparency Legal Advice Centre also advises those who have already made a protected disclosure