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Employers should show leadership in protecting whistleblowers

Transparency International Ireland urges employers to protect whistleblowers

Dublin, 20 January 2012 - Transparency International Ireland is calling on employers to show leadership in protecting workers who speak up in the public interest.

The anti-corruption group says recent coverage of the treatment of whistleblowers on RTE radio’s Liveline programme reveals only the tip of the ice-berg of a problem which leaves whistleblowers exposed to retaliation from employers.

TI Ireland runs the country’s only free helpline which provides confidential information and guidance to people facing ethical dilemmas or reporting concerns about possible fraud, abuse of power or corruption.

Its chief executive, John Devitt, says many callers to the Speak Up service, which opened last May, are whistleblowers who fear that if they share their concerns with their employers they may lose their jobs.

“Our helpline volunteers are dealing with distressed callers who wish to speak up in the public interest but are unsure of their rights and responsibilities and what protection is in place for them,” he said. “The government has committed itself to a single law protecting people who come forward to report wrongdoing, which we see as long overdue given the succession of scandals that have emerged from our banks, the public sector and church. The cost of silence to Irish society is incalculable.”

“We will welcome any new law that offers full protection to whistleblowers across the private and public sectors and any future law should clearly place the onus on employers to show that they have not retaliated against employees who speak up. However, employers do not need to wait for a whistleblower protection bill to be introduced – we would urge all employers to show leadership in protecting workers who speak up in public interest.”

The State ethics watchdog, the Standards in Public Office Commission, has stated that the Government’s current approach to whistleblower protection is deeply flawed and that the current  “piecemeal approach to introducing protection for whistleblowers may have created confusion”.  The  agency has also questioned “whether there is a real commitment” to encouraging people to come forward in reporting wrongdoing.

A TI Ireland report on whistleblower protection in Ireland published last year found that while safeguards had been included in individual pieces of legislation, people across the public and private sectors can still face legal and disciplinary action for honestly reporting concerns to their employers or the authorities. There is no legal safeguard for employees in the banking sector, while the only state agency that provides blanket guarantees to whistleblowers is FÁS.

The authorities in  Britain and Northern Ireland have offered blanket protection to employees there under a single whistleblower law since 1998.

Notes for editors

TI Ireland’s Speak Up free-phone helpline number is 1800 844 866 and is open 10am to 6pm Monday to Friday. People can also contact the helpline by secure email through the helpline website www.speakup.ie.

TI Ireland’s report on whistleblower protection in Ireland ‘An Alternative to Silence’ is available at http://www.transparency.ie/news_events/whistle.htm.

The Standards in Public Office Commission is the State agency responsible for the supervision of the Ethics and Electoral Acts. The legislation limits the amount of gifts and donations that politicians and office holders can receive in any year and the amount candidates and political parties can spend in elections. It also requires politicians and political parties to publish financial interests and donations received in any year.  

Media Contact: John Devitt, Tel: 086 173 5040