Number of whistleblowers in financial services set to double

‘Culture of fear’ still preventing employees from speaking out, says transparency group

Whistleblower procedures: the Central Bank is investigating almost 40 whistleblower allegations made so far in 2017, just 10 shy of the total number received in 2016. Photograph: Frederic Cirou/PhotoAlto/Getty

Whistleblower procedures: the Central Bank is investigating almost 40 whistleblower allegations made so far in 2017, just 10 shy of the total number received in 2016. Photograph: Frederic Cirou/PhotoAlto/Getty

 

The number of whistleblowers making protected disclosure reports about suspected breaches of law in the Irish financial services sector is set to double this year.

The regulator is investigating almost 40 whistleblower allegations made so far in 2017, just 10 shy of the total number received in 2016.

Fifty protected disclosure reports were made to the Central Bank last year in total, around 15 of which are still under investigation. In 2015, 49 reports of alleged wrongdoing were made to the regulator.

Any employee in the financial services sector can make a report about alleged regulatory breaches at their company to the Central Bank. A spokeswoman for the regulator said that, as a result of the reports made to date, various actions have been taken by the State against companies – including fines, on-site inspections, the issuing of risk mitigation plans and the creation of a watchlist.

“Not all reports received will result in supervisory action being initiated, as the information may not be sufficient to take action, or the information received was not substantiated when investigated,” she said.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has said “all allegations from whistleblowers are treated seriously and examined thoroughly”. Mr Noonan, responding to a written parliamentary question from Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty, confirmed the Central Bank is “currently considering approximately 50 whistleblower allegations”, from 2016 and 2017.

Mr Noonan said he is “satisfied that whistleblower procedures for banks and other financial institutions are robust”.

Mr Doherty said his own experience in helping bring whistleblowers’ allegations to the Central Bank had been “disappointing”. The Donegal TD said the case involved moneylenders, “who although they received a fine, escaped lightly in my book with many serious allegations not dealt with. The workers who blew the whistle have now all lost their jobs”.

Mr Doherty also queried how promptly the regulator followed up on whistleblower reports. “What is not clear and is of concern to me is there is no detail on how long the Central Bank has had these 50 cases on the books,” he said.

Protected disclosure

Transparency Ireland, an independent organisation that monitors corruption and promotes political transparency, said it was crucial protected disclosure reports are followed up and acted upon.

The organisation’s chief executive John Devitt said according to Irish and international data, “the second most-common reason workers cite for not speaking up is the belief that nothing will be done once they do”.

Whistleblowers have to believe they will not face reprisals or a backlash for reporting wrongdoing, Mr Devitt said.

Larry Broderick, general secretary of the Financial Services Union (FSU) said it assisted many employees throughout the financial sector making whistleblower reports to the Central Bank, primarily employees working in various banks in Ireland.

“One of the main obstacles facing whistleblowers is the culture of fear that exists in banking, despite the new legal protections that exist,” he said. “The FSU continues to campaign for a change in the culture of banking so that blowing the whistle on malpractice is valued and appreciated. That is rarely the case at present.”