Whistleblower laws will ‘change standards in public sector’

Minister for Public Expenditure tells London conference changes in corporate culture may be harder to achieve

Protections for whistleblowers to be made law in Ireland will change standards in the public sector before improvements will come from Irish business, Minister for Public Expenditure, Brendan Howlin today declared.

The Protected Disclosures Bill 2013 published in July lays down that workers cannot be penalised for disclosing information about offences, failure to comply with a legal obligation, a miscarriage of justice, risks to health and safety, misuse of public funds, or mismanagement by a public body.

“Improvements in public governance will come but changes in corporate culture may be somewhat harder to achieve. Legislators can, and will, continue to put the frameworks in place designed to encourage good behaviour and mitigate corruption,” he told a London conference.

“Ultimately, however, the extent to which corporate Ireland meets the highest ethical standards will be dependant not only on shareholders but also on the attitudes of all stakeholders including workers and customers. We all have a role to play.”

READ MORE

Defending whistleblowers, the Minister they were usually motivated by a desire to bring wrongs into the light.

“Where secrecy rules lack of trust prevails, confidence in institutions, both public and private, is lost and the potential for corruption is magnified.”

Mr Howlin was speaking at the Open Government Summit in London, which has brought together over 70 countries committed to greater transparency and disclosure in public life.

A series of investigations over the last 20 years had revealed “an almost implicit acceptance of practices over a long number of years which the modern observer rightly viewed with dismay, if not horror”, he said.

“Yet Irish society, if not necessarily accepting all of those practices as the norm, remained silent over the years. A few voices did speak out but were muffled,” he said, insisting that whistleblowers must now be better accepted in Ireland.

“I have been mindful of the opportunity it presents to contribute to what I see as a necessary change in Irish society. Any study of Irish social history will reveal that there has been a cultural, almost institutionalised, reluctance to ‘speak up’ against wrongdoing.

“At its worst, persons reporting to the authorities were viewed as ‘informers’ and shunned as outcasts - or even worse,” he went on, “It has been increasingly clear to me that this culture of secrecy, so long endemic in Irish life, needs to change.”

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy is News Editor of the The Irish Times