Far-reaching whistleblower laws needed, says watchdog

 

A GROUP campaigning for transparency in public life has said whistleblower laws should allow public servants inform TDs and Senators of negligence when those concerns are ignored by colleagues.

Transparency International said yesterday that there was also a need to investigate how policy is produced. Chief executive John Devitt said there was a requirement to publish whatever evidence is used by officials in reaching decisions of public importance.

Mr Devitt was responding to a Sunday newspaper identifying a whistleblower in the Department of Finance who consistently warned about an overheating property market during 2005 and 2006, but whose warnings were ignored by more senior officials.

The existence and content of the suppressed documents warning of an overheating economy were reported in The Irish Times last October, on foot of a Freedom of Information request and also following the receipt of documents from a source. However, a whistleblower was not identified by this newspaper.

Mr Devitt said reports of how repeated advice on this risk were dismissed should not only help illuminate events leading to the financial crisis, but also inform fresh legislation aimed at preventing such a thing happening again.

A spokeswoman for Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin said the key element of the forthcoming whistleblower legislation was that its protections applied “to all elements of the public service and private sector”.

Reacting to the contention that internal warnings had been ignored within the department, the spokeswoman said that the Nyberg and Wright inquiries [into the banking collapse] had access to all departmental [Finance] documents, including those not made public, and that members of both inquiry teams had spoken to officials at all levels in the departments.

Last October The Irish Times reported that internal memos expressing concern about the introduction of 100 per cent mortgages and about house price inflation were edited to reflect a benign view that the property market would experience a “soft landing”.

The Nyberg Commission stated that some within the Department of Finance had raised concerns but their views were ignored.

Documents on overheating in the housing sector as well as 100 per cent mortgages included material that forecast a scenario other than a soft landing.

But the material was later amended by senior officials to reflect the official view that there would be a soft landing.