Whistleblowing legislation expected to be strengthened


PROPOSED whistleblowing legislation is expected to be strengthened to offer better protection to individuals coming forward with information about possible wrongdoing, following a strong intervention from a former AIB whistleblower.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin has responded to ex-AIB internal auditor Eugene McErlean, who last week expressed concern about the level of confidentiality granted under the planned law.

Mr Howlin’s spokeswoman has confirmed he is examining ways to strengthen safeguards in the Protected Disclosures in the Public Interest Bill, the draft heads of which were published recently.

“Any such protection cannot, of course, be absolute but the Minister will be examining how the level of protection currently envisaged in the draft heads can be enhanced as the drafting process proceeds,” the spokeswoman said.

She said Mr Howlin believed the point raised by Mr McErlean was important, particularly given Mr McErlean’s “direct personal experience in this area”.

He 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 told the Oireachtas finance committee last Tuesday he believed the proposed legislation contained an element of uncertainty about the extent of confidentiality granted to individuals contemplating coming forward with information about possible wrongdoing.

Transparency International Ireland, part of a worldwide movement against corruption, has also highlighted the issue in the course of the consultation process Mr Howlin is undertaking on the proposed legislation, his spokeswoman said.

“The requirement for this is, in fact, highlighted in the programme for government in terms of a commitment to protecting the confidentiality of a person who provides confidential information to a TD,” she added.

The programme for government commits the Coalition to putting in place whistleblower legislation, “to protect public servants [who] expose maladministration by Ministers or others”.

The spokeswoman said Mr Howlin’s “own experiences” would support Mr McErlean’s assessment that the confidentiality of a person making a protected disclosure should be safeguarded as much as possible. In 2000, Mr Howlin and Fine Gael’s Jim Higgins, now an MEP, approached the then minister for justice John O’Donoghue with serious allegations against senior gardaí.

Mr Howlin has said the Morris tribunal, into complaints concerning some gardaí of the Donegal division, would never have been established without the actions of Mr Higgins and himself.

The tribunal later criticised them for not checking the veracity of the claims, which they had received anonymously, before passing them on for investigation.

The tribunal concluded the allegations were untrue.