Dublin, 20 May 2010 - Transparency International Ireland has cautiously welcomed Government proposals for a crack down on white-collar crime. But a spokesperson for the group has described its proposals for protecting whistleblowers as “window dressing”.
Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern announced the Government’s plan for fighting corruption and white-collar crime at the Law Society annual dinner this evening. He promised a consolidated anti-corruption bill to bring the law on corruption dating back to 1889 up to date, while he also announced a white paper consultation on fighting economic crime. In addition the Minister for Justice said that whistleblowers would receive “blanket protection” when reporting suspicions of corruption in good faith.
“Some of the measures announced tonight look promising on the surface. Dig a little deeper though and you should notice that these whistleblower safeguards were announced two years ago”, said TI Ireland Chief Executive John Devitt. “The new Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill will not protect people like former AIB auditor Eugene McErlean or the thousands of bank employees or civil servants who report concerns in the public interest,” he added.
The Government scrapped plans for a Whistleblower Protection Bill in 2006 favouring a “sectoral approach” to protecting people reporting concerns in good faith. This means that only certain categories of people, reporting very specific offences are protected against dismissal or legal action by their employers. Citing the potential harm to Ireland’s “lightly regulated economy” and “legal complexities”, the Government has since opposed introducing comprehensive safeguards similar to those in Northern Ireland. A single whistleblower law allows any Northern Irish employee the right to report potential harm to the public interest or wrongdoing. It also affords them the right to present evidence to a journalist in limited circumstances.
“The Government proposals will not protect anyone in Anglo Irish Bank who presents confidential information to the authorities even if the information helps the Gardaí in their current investigation into the bank. Neither will they protect a civil servant who reports a cover-up or misleading information given by her department to the public. The Government’s whistleblower proposals fall well short of what’s needed to fight white-crime or protect the public interest in Ireland. It’s about time we brought our law on whistleblowing into line with that across the border and introduced a single whistleblower’s charter”.
TI Ireland will launch a new free-phone helpline and advice service for witnesses, whistleblowers and victims of corruption later this year. The helpline will be launched with financial support from the European Commission.