A Whistleblower’s Motive | Cassandra Voices

A Whistleblower’s Motive


In a seminal scene at the end of the film Joker (2019) the eponymous character, played by Joaquin Phoenix, is being interviewed by Robert de Niro’s character, the TV talk show host Murray Franklin. The Joker asks: “What do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner with a society that abandons him and treats him like trash? You get what you fucking deserve!” before he shoots Murray Franklin in the head.

My question is this: ‘What do you get when you belittle someone’s work ethic, demean their professionalism, turn it into a tick-box exercise, and laugh at their idealism. “You get a whistleblower.

After it ended, in May 2023, I received one or two messages from former colleagues who referred to me as “brave” or indeed “very brave”. Honestly, I do not consider myself brave. Pig-headed, stubborn and naively idealistic would be a more accurate assessment; and it’s the ideals that sank me.

Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker.


This story begins back in 2015 when I accepted a challenge from the daa’s (the commercial semi-state airport company that operates Dublin Airport formerly known as Aer Rianta) then CEO. As an employee of the daa I had been very critical of the behaviour of senior managers, especially the lack of value being accorded to employees. It was during one of these conversations that he challenged me to be part of the solution, rather than continuously carping. He asked me to help reform the organisation’s values.

Having accepted the challenge, I worked with the newly formed values team/committee. A lot of engagement was undertaken to identify what staff valued and were looking for as values in the organisation.

I now suspect it was all done for optics. This is because values only seem important for the daa as long as they do not impact on the bottom line. It is an organisation that seems to be run by accountants, who tend to be fixated on the budget statement at the end of each month. If they did consider values important they would surely have published their last substantive staff survey, conducted with Tower Watson in 2021/2022. That has been buried like it never happened.

I felt that values in the workplace would improve with a more joined-up approach, where people understood how each department worked and that each was reliant on the other.

The daa is a large organisation, reflecting the developing and existing culture of the wider Irish society. What the idealist in me failed to understand was that many people appear content this culture.

Superannuation Scheme

There were other impact factors, including the Irish Airlines Superannuation Scheme, long monopolised by Aer Lingus retirees, employees, and executives. I ran for election for one of four places on the Superannuation Committee in October 2008, receiving 1211 votes, 370 short of the last candidate elected, an Aer Lingus Representative.

By this stage the issue of not paying enough into a defined Benefit Scheme had come to a head. This meant that we, as daa employees, like Aer Lingus employees, would become deferred members and enter into separate, defined contribution schemes. A pension product, unlike a defined benefit pension scheme, provides no guarantees.

New entrants into this scheme received (or in some cases had not received) a financial contribution made by the company based on age and role. One such role was being a member of the Airport Fire Service. A medical waiver was required for firemen to benefit from the company’s individual contribution into the new defined contribution scheme.

Having to sign this waiver did not sit well with some of the firemen. A handful refused to sign, and were very poorly treated by daa HR over their principled stance.

Coincidentally, it was around this time that the introduction of the company’s new values initiative was to take place. Two of the values ambassadors were asked to present a short snippet to the fire crew, with the CEO and CFO in attendance. One worked in the daa internal communications team, and I was the other person asked to present.

Sadly, to complicate matters, a senior fire officer rang across on the morning of the presentation to say that the crew were deeply hostile to this presentation and advised that the values ambassadors should not attend.

I was then told that the communications team member would not attend due to this hostility, and was asked, would I? By this stage I had been an Airport Police Fire Officer for about sixteen years and had only recently taken up a full-time role in police training. I understood their anger, but to my mind that pension deal was done, and I was looking towards the future of an organisation aiming to become an aviation security and safety leader. That, at least, was the organisation I envisioned.

So, I went ahead and gave my five-minute presentation. Before I spoke, however, one of the firemen muttered to me that “I would get lackery for this.” I never did, at least to my face anyway.

I bumped into that individual recently, a few months before I was dismissed by the daa, in a coffee shop near Dublin Airport. He had just retired, and not in the manner he had wanted. He looked and sounded broken by the way it had ended. Worst of all, after so many years of spending time with his colleagues, he now had so very few people to talk to.

Values Journey

As part of my values’ journey, I had been asked to attend a company seminar in the Radisson Hotel at Dublin Airport. The then head of airport security and I were interviewed on a stage in front of at least eighty staff, many of them management. I spoke about being ill and conducting a review of myself. I described it as like holding a mirror up to my face and being unhappy with what I saw.

I compared this to the introduction of the organisation’s values assessment – holding up a mirror to the face of the organisation. None of us, I said, could be proud of how the daa had previously behaved, and this was an opportunity to move forward more positively.

Sometime after this I was stopped by a HR manager who told me they loved my speech and analogy about the mirror. They said they had acquired a small mirror and placed at the edge of their desk so that people could see their reflections whenever they were in her office: “to make them look at themselves”, when she was dealing with them.

Image: Daniele Idini.


2020 arrived bringing us COVID-19. Mentally, I was very stretched, having been separated for about a year, back living with my parents, and halfway through my first year studying for a Diploma in Legal Studies in the King’s Inns, which required attendance four evenings per week.

As the country and aviation industry effectively closed down for the first lockdown at the end of March, 2020, I had just managed to get myself through a twenty-four-day course with four other police instructors in Tai Jitsu, conflict management, coaching/teaching, control and restraint and handcuffing techniques.

I had had to book a room in the local airport sports complex – as the daa still has no dedicated facility for many of their aviation training requirements – in order to deliver the course and host the instructor from the UK. On another occasion our room had been double booked and we had to conduct this physical course on half of the usual floor space, as the rest had been set up for a wedding!

When the lockdown led, inevitably, to a voluntary severance scheme, the atmosphere at work darkened. Only months before, staff had voted to reject a management proposal called ‘New Ways of Working’. Many of these conditions were now being foisted on us.

It annoys me that people who want to benefit from a severance scheme get to vote on the terms and conditions of those who wish to remain at work. It was not, however, my fight. I was trying to look beyond COVID-19, having assessed it would take longer than six months.

With that in mind, I asked my brother, a budding artist, to offer an artist’s impression based on what I had told him in a rough sketch. I wrote a one-page business idea, or hook as we call it in training, and argued that now was the time to build for the future of aviation.

I sent these watercolours and the idea to the Chief People Officer in May 2020. The daa head office was based in the Old Central Terminal Building. I left the art work and letter with reception and waited. By this stage, many of the office-based staff had begun to work from home. Understandably, it took him two weeks to get back to me.

He got back to me by email regarding my Aviation Training Centre proposal. I recall he said I had put a lot of thought into the idea and said he had asked one of his team to contact me to discuss it further.

Marqette Food Hall and Bar, Terminal 1, Dublin Airport.

“Oh that”

I never heard back from that team member. A couple of months later, however, I bumped into her while she was queuing for a coffee in Marqette Café in Arrivals in Terminal 1. I said hello and she just about managed to say “Hi” in return. I brought up the idea for a training centre and asked whether she had been asked to speak to me regarding the proposal.

“Oh that” was the response. With that she collected her coffee and walked away. “Oh that”. After all my effort.

By this time I had decided I had had enough, and made a complaint of bullying against the Airport Security Manager. It was based on a number of incidents, which I regarded as an attempt to isolate me as the Police Training Manager.

This complaint was brought to the attention of the daa’s Equality Officer, as my own HR business support felt unable to deal with it. She and the Chief People Officer pushed for an informal meeting to address my complaint after the Chief People Officer had first met with the Airport Security Manager. I agreed. No room was booked, instead a meeting was arranged over a cup of coffee at the AMT Coffee Dock on February 17, 2021. No coffee was bought.

The Airport Security Manager attempted to dissuade me – in what I felt was an intimidating manner – from making the complaint. He stated that he would respond with compliance findings against me. In response, I said I would be continuing to pursue the formal complaint.

I left the table and as I walked away he caught up with me. I felt something pushing into my side, which turned out to be his left elbow. I came to a stop and told him to “get his fucking elbow out of my side”.

I let him pass across to my left and started to walk away. I heard him calling after me “bye Matt, see ya Matt”.

I reported the incident to An Garda Siochana and a file was sent to the DPP. Sadly, I had no witness, and it was not caught on CCTV.

I kept pushing the formal complaint, however, and the company hired an external HR consultant. We agreed terms of reference, one being that the investigator would circulate the completed report back to the Equality Officer, and that a full copy would be circulated to the respondents.

The report confirmed there had been an affront to my dignity at work, although the allegation of bullying was not upheld. It also made three recommendations. However, the first recommendation was redacted by the daa in violation of the terms of reference.

On March 15, 2023, while I was still an employee of the daa, the Chief People Officer sent three daa HR managers into the Workplace Relations Commission to have my referral over the complaint of bullying thrown out on a technicality. The adjudicator did not accept their argument and asked all three what was in the partly redacted report. All three claimed they did not know. The adjudicator requested a two week adjournment, and for the Chief People Officer, the Equality Officer and the Airport Security Manager to appear at the next hearing. That hearing has still not taken place. It has been included in my claim for unfair dismissal and penalisation in the workplace over my Protected Disclosures.

A new date had not been agreed before daa HR seized on my email to the board on April 14 2023, expressing frustration at daa HR’s behaviour, claiming incorrectly that it was a letter of resignation.

My frustration was based on the fact that a potential new employer had sought a reference from the Chief People Officer, which was not forthcoming. What did occur, however, was an attempt to file a disciplinary charge against me.

Protected Disclosure

On June 18, 2022, I wrote a letter which constituted a Protected Disclosure to the Minister for Transport Minister, Eamon Ryan. The primary issue was the security culture fostered by the Airport Security Manager and another senior security manager, which, I contended, was leading to a decline in security training standards.

For twenty years, if a newly hired ASU (Officer with the Airport Search Unit) failed any of the screening exams twice they would not be allowed a third re-sit. Now, however, because of staff shortages, ASU trainees were being put forward – with the Airport Security Manager’s approval – for resits after two fails.

This Protected Disclosure was handed to the Minister in the Dáil Chamber by Deputy Duncan Smith of Labour on the June 29, 2022.

For a long time, I had observed the attitude within the daa deteriorate towards aviation security and safety. In my view, it had become a tick-box exercise, and led to a very toxic workplace.

By this stage, in 2022, I had been with the organisation for twenty-four years, having joined the Airport Police in 1998. To remain working any longer in that environment would have killed me, as I had got nowhere with reforming the values of the organisation.

I was to be left to rot, having been unjustly stripped of the rank of Inspector by another senior security manager. This happened, I was told by someone in the organisation because “I did not manage the people above me”. In other words, I did not tell them what they wanted to hear.

For months I heard nothing from the Minister’s office. Then, on October 6, 2022, I emailed the office directly and received a reply from an official saying that although they did have my name, they had no way of contacting me and had decided the Protected Disclosure did not warrant further investigation.

I challenged this and asked to see the initial review and to be provided with further evidence. I still have not seen that review.

Department of Transport officials informed me on October 19, 2022 that the company secretary of the IAA was the prescribed person under SI 367/2020 who I should be dealing with regarding my Protected Disclosure.

Dublin Airport.


Landside Patrolling Risk

Finally, on January 10, 2023, the Aviation Security Manager with the IAA emailed and we spoke. She and a colleague had been tasked with conducting the initial assessment into my Protected Disclosure. After agreeing terms, I met with them on January 30, 2023, and was interviewed for just over an hour.

At this meeting I also provided and highlighted my concerns regarding the daa’s management of the Airport Security Programme, and how I felt that the failure to risk assess landside areas was a mistake. The landside area of an airport is where non-travelling members of the public have unrestricted access, i.e. before security screening. I provided the IAA with a landside risk assessment that I had provided to police management on November 22, 2022. Although acknowledged, it was ignored by the daa security team.

On Friday, March 24, 2023, the head of policy and compliance for the Airport Police circulated an email to police management and sergeants stating that the IAA had issued an update to the National Risk Assessment for Dublin Airport and Airport Police patrolling, which specifically referred to the landside areas.

I now know, thanks to Senator Tom Clonan, that the IAA commenced their investigation in response to my Protected Disclosure into daa security on March 23, 2023, the day before this email was sent.

Image: Daniele Idini

New Role

As I have said, I planned to move on and had been under consideration for a job in a different organisation since January 2023. This role required an enhanced background security check, which in this State can take over fourteen weeks. And so the wait began.

Senior management seemed to think that COVID-19 would give them the flexibility they were always arguing for when it came to regulation. I recall meeting a senior manager during that period in the Arrival’s Hall of Terminal 1. We were both looking at a very empty Arrivals’ screen, and I brought up the CAR (Commission for Aviation Regulation) thirty-minute queue requirement. I said now would be a good time to look at this – prior to re-opening.

“That’s all gone Matt” was the reply. I asked him did he really think so, and he was adamant that it was gone. It hadn’t gone away, aviation safety and security regulatory requirements remained consistent, but the daa had simply stuck its head in the sand.

I should add that I posted a number of thought-provoking pieces on the daa’s company social network, Yammer. One, on May 1, 2022, about leadership, elicited a query from the then CEO. I posted in exasperation at how I had been asked to step up to the mark on values, but had received no support; and another about how, in my view, the organisation had become so very fake, with employees viewed as the problem by an elitist management team.

My last post was in response to the publication of an official report into the culture of the Irish Army. I posted it on Yammer on March 29: ‘Truly dreadful report published today regarding the degrading behaviour of Irish army officers. Thankfully we don’t have that culture or any of those traits in the daa.’ It included a hand on chin emoji, confused or pensive emoji, depending on how you interpret it.

At around 9:30am, on April 12, I received a phone call from my former chief. He requested that I meet him in his office at 10:15am, and strongly advised I bring a work colleague or union official along with me.

I asked what it was about, and he said my Yammer post of March 29. This was the morning that US President Joe Biden was arriving at Dublin Airport. I thought he would have better things to do and responded that it was very short notice; he replied: “I just need to get this done today.”

As a friend put it: “someone else was blowing up his tyres.” I ended the conversation and emailed back, saying that it was too short notice as I could get no one suitable to attend with me. He rang back at 10:30 and apologised for any confusion, saying that it was not necessary for me to bring someone along, and that he only needed to speak with me for a minute. I asked then whether it was an informal chat. He would not admit that but insisted it would only take a minute.

I felt I had done nothing wrong and called to his office. When I arrived he informed me that he was referring to my Yammer post of March 29 to HR. I asked why. He informed me that “it was offensive.” I asked, “to whom?” He informed me after a pause that he found it offensive. I said “you’re the manager, why don’t you deal with it.’

He refused, saying it was going to HR. I replied, “well that is disappointing,” to which he relied “well people can be disappointed.”

About twenty minutes later my prospective new employer emailed to say I had just cleared the enhanced background security check, and requested permission to contact the daa for a reference. Happy about this, I replied I would do so, giving them the Chief Police Officer’s contact details. I thought I was days away from securing the new position.

The next day, the Head of Security HR, emailed to inform me that I was being brought before an investigative disciplinary meeting regarding my Yammer post. The post about the culture in the Army report must have really hit a nerve with daa senior management. Perhaps it was because the Airport Security Manager was a former Irish Army Officer?

The following day, Friday, April 14, I hit back. I emailed the board of the daa, stating that after twenty-four years I intended to move on, but could not do so without a reference, which HR had not provided.

I also stated that I was the one who had made the Protected Disclosure to the Minister, and that I had also been assaulted in the workplace by the Airport Security Manager. I further stated that in my view the daa HR team were untrustworthy and had acted maliciously. I also offered an exit interview as I wished to offer further insights into the daa.

Before emailing the board, I read the company’s exit policy. It states very clearly that an employee resigns to his or her line manager, or HR business support, and is given a notice period based on their employment contract. I had specifically excluded HR or any local management from my email to the board on April 14.

On Monday morning, April 17, 2023 my line manager arrived at my Office. “I hear you’re leaving,” he said. I asked him where he had heard that. “HR told me,” he replied. I asked him who told them. He replied that he did not know. I then held up a copy of the exit policy that I had printed off and said, “someone has jumped the gun here because I have not resigned, my emails to the board specifically excluded you and HR.”

By then, HR had still not provided a reference. From April 12, until May 12 when I received an email from the Chief People Officer instructing me not to report for duty the following Monday, I, along with the SIPTU Sectorial Organiser, had repeatedly emailed to say I had not formally resigned.

It was the company secretary who had taken my email from the daa board and provided it directly to HR. She informed me herself in an email.

It is important to note that in or around October 2022, the company secretary had been handed a copy of the Protected Disclosure, my anonymity removed, by a worker-director and was directly involved with me on another internal Protected Disclosure which she was overseeing.

Eternal Vigilance

Since 2019 I have been a student of law at the Honourable Society of Kings Inns. I am in my final year as a candidate for the barrister-at-law degree. It is both an education and a professional qualification. The majority of tutorials take place in the Philpott-Curran Room located at the top of their building on Henrietta Street. John Philpott Curran (1750-1817) was a lawyer, orator and stateman who defended Irish liberties. He also defended United Irishmen, including Wolf Tone.

As I sit and write, a portrait of Wolf Tone, painted by my mother back in 1991 taken from a secondary school history book hangs on the wall behind me. Life is a long and winding road and if you follow your heart you find steppingstones that put you on the right path. There are many famous sayings attributed to John Philpot Curran, one being: ‘The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance.’

I wonder whether it falls to whistleblowers in modern Irish society to maintain that eternal vigilance – crucial to preserving liberty and democracy.

Fact-checking is also surely part of that role. On July 27, 2023, the Irish Times published an article quoting daa sources to the effect that they had been found innocent of any wrongdoing by the IAA, and its subsequent investigation in response to the Protected Disclosure.

This is inaccurate as the IAA amended the National Risk Assessment, in response to issues I raised in my Protected Disclosure, provided to the IAA on January 30, 2023 the day after they commenced their investigation. That issue is now the subject of another Protected Disclosure, one involving the Dáil Transport Committee and the IAA themselves.

The second, partial at least, inaccuracy in that article is the claim that the whistleblower was unhappy over a pay claim. It does not provide context to this. I made the Protected Disclosure on June 22, 2022, and was in receipt of my first negative pay review in twenty-four years on July 26, 2022.

Sadly, most Irish media outlets seem to have no interest in whistleblowers’ accounts. Perhaps they are the victims of bullying by vested interests themselves?

Feature Image: Daniele Idini


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