Whistleblower Bill may give 'false sense of security'
FORMER AIB internal auditor Eugene McErlean has warned that proposed whistleblower legislation may give potential whistleblowers a false sense of security by failing to provide adequate protection to ensure confidentiality.
Mr McErlean told the Oireachtas finance committee he believed the draft law contained an element of uncertainty about the level of confidentiality granted to individuals contemplating coming forward with information about possible wrongdoing.
“In order to encourage individuals to come forward, legislation must first and foremost provide a safe alternative to silence and not offer potential whistleblowers a ‘cardboard shield’ that would entrap them by giving them a false sense of security,” he said.
He told TDs and Senators research showed potential whistleblowers tended to remain silent because they feared reprisals and felt their warnings would not be followed up appropriately. They needed “credible protection”, but the draft Bill required a person to whom a protected disclosure is made to use their “best endeavours” to keep the identity of the whistleblower confidential. “This is a very low threshold,” he said.
“Consequently, from a practical point of view, as long as the draft legislation contains an element of uncertainty about the confidentiality of the process, there may not be any marked improvement in the willingness of individuals to come forward with important information.”
However, Mr McErlean said he welcomed the publication of the draft heads of the Protected Disclosures in the Public Interest Bill. It marked a very significant step forward in the improvement of the corporate governance and anti-corruption framework, he said.
He said Ireland had experienced corporate governance failures that had culminated in avoidable consequences for the State.
“What is remarkable is that despite the very obvious negative economic and social consequences and the overall detriment to the public interest, practically no one with knowledge of the serious malpractices felt it was safe to act in the public interest and come forward with information.” He said if such information had been available some of the more “egregious abuses” would have been avoided.
Mr McErlean was head of group internal audit at AIB between 1997 and 2002 when he was forced out after he raised concerns about overcharging with the Financial Regulator.
He was appointed to the Citizens Information Board by Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton last year.