Transparency International Ireland launches first Speak Up Report from whistleblower helpline

Local Government source of largest number of reports • Health Sector reports highest levels of whistleblower retaliation • Dublin and Cork generating largest number of complaints

Issued by Transparency International Ireland



Anti-corruption group, Transparency International (TI) Ireland has published its first report based on data collected from over 500 whistleblowers, witnesses and victims of wrongdoing in Ireland.

TI Ireland has been operating the country’s only free-phone non-profit helpline for whistleblowers, witness and victims of wrongdoing since 2011. Its clients have included Garda Sergeant Maurice McCabe and former Garda John Wilson and it advised the Government on the new Protected Disclosures Act. 

The Speak Up Report suggests that the risk of corruption and other forms of wrongdoing is relatively high in Local Government and the Health Service, as well as Social Services including Charities, but TI Ireland’s Chief Executive John Devitt has warned against assuming that these sectors are more ‘corrupt’ than others.

‘The report is not a league table of the most and least corrupt organisations or the most honest counties in Ireland. Instead, we’re highlighting the kind of risks that policy makers and senior executives need to be aware of and the measures we think will help address corruption, fraud and other forms of wrongdoing. No organisation or professional sector is immune from malpractice,’ Mr Devitt said.

‘It is up to people responsible for overseeing and managing public, private or non-profit organisations to determine whether the incentives and opportunities for malpractice are likely to tempt someone to abuse their position and whether they have the necessary controls in place.’

‘What’s more, we hope the public will read the report and ask whether government has done enough to prevent fraud, corruption and waste in public bodies. Citizens have an important role to play in demanding more transparency and accountability from their politicians and public servants.’ 

Susheela Math, TI Ireland’s Legal Counsel and manager of the Speak Up helpline, said ‘Whistleblowers, in particular, play a valuable role in bringing wrongdoing to light and preventing it from happening again.  However, we have heard from our callers that they have often been penalised for speaking up.

We worked with the Government to provide a safety net in the form of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014. The Act is a significant step forward but we have also asked for the legislation to be further strengthened.’

‘Our report contains a number of issues to be reconsidered as soon as possible or at least when the Act is reviewed in 2017.  These include providing explicit protection for volunteers, expanding the list of prescribed persons (regulators) who can receive reports, and making actions for compensation less burdensome,’ Ms Math added.

Problem Sectors
The report lists the ten sectors that have been the subject of most concern among helpline callers. These are:

Sector

Number

Percentage

Local Government

87

12%

Health

71

10%

Social Services including Charities

66

9%

Police

60

8%

Legal Services/ Law Firms

49

7%

Education

43

6%

Civil Service/Public Administration

39

5%

Banking and Finance

36

5%

Judges

26

4%

Construction

13

2%

Particular attention is paid to the top three sectors highlighted by callers: Local Government, the Health Sector and Social Services including Charities. The report identifies planning and public procurement as key risk areas for local authorities, while the high rate of whistleblower retaliation in the Health Sector (at 20% of calls) is highlighted as a source of concern. TI Ireland also point to the relatively large number of complaints about medical malpractice and allegations of cover-ups in the health service. Social services including Charities represent the third highest number of reports to the helpline. It is suggested that this is likely to be a result of the growing overlap of responsibilities between state and non-profit services as well as a lack of financial oversight in the sector. 
Dublin is listed as the source of the most number of reports, followed by Cork, Kildare and Donegal. The higher concentration of population in both Dublin and Cork is likely to account for the larger number of calls from the two counties.
TI Ireland has recommended a range of measures aimed at helping clean up government and prevent wrongdoing in business and the private sector. These include:

  1. Proactive intelligence sharing among law enforcement agencies and other state bodies needs to improve if corruption and white collar crime are to be properly detected and prosecuted. Either a national anti-corruption agency or an inter-agency task force on corruption and white-collar crime should be established. Such a measure should be introduced as part of a long-term national strategy aimed at preventing corruption and white-collar crime.
  2. Provide agencies such as the Standards in Public Office Commission, the anticipated Planning Regulator and the Health Inspection Quality Authority with powers and resources to gather intelligence and investigate allegations of wrongdoing with or without a prior complaint from a member of the public.
  3. While Local Government auditing standards appear to have improved in recent years, there appears to be little or no promotion by local authorities of their statutory Fraud and Anti-Corruption Alert Plans. Promotion of these and other anti-corruption measures, including training and education, should be introduced as part of an overhaul the local government ethics framework.
  4. Increase education and awareness-raising on corruption and anti-corruption across all sectors. More emphasis should be placed on education and awareness-raising on the risks and costs associated with corruption and measures aimed at stopping corruption across Irish society. This should include sustained public-awareness raising initiatives involving civil society organisations; ongoing ethics training and advice for public officials including elected representatives; and continuous research on the efficacy of existing anti-corruption measures.
  5. Any changes to national ethics legislation should introduce a ban on any public official receiving gifts or entertainment during the course of their employment. Any new requirements to make declarations of interest should also cover any liabilities, as well as income and assets of public officials and their families.
  6. The Protected Disclosures Act will not protect whistleblowers on its own. TI Ireland will launch a new initiative in 2015 titled ‘Integrity at Work’ that will bring employers, trade unions and regulators together to subscribe to standards by which workers will be treated when speaking up about wrongdoing. The initiative will allow workers to approach the Speak Up helpline in seeking legal advice and for TI Ireland to monitor employer or regulator compliance with the Integrity at Work standard. The goal is to move beyond the law and ensure that employers and workers are able to make the most of the new legislation.

TI Ireland will also announce plans to launch its National Integrity Award, which will recognise people and organisations that have made an outstanding contribution to the public interest by exposing wrongdoing or promoting transparency in public life. The award is due to be formally launched this summer.

Notes 

The Report can be downloaded at http://transparency.ie/news_events/transparency-international-ireland-launches-first-speak-report-whistleblower-helpline

The Speak Up helpline is one of around 70 Transparency International (TI) Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres around the world and was the first to be established by TI in Western Europe. TI has now provided support to over 130,000 people worldwide.

TI Ireland published Ireland’s first free guide to whistleblowing and a public information video on the Protected Disclosures Act in December 2014. The guides are available for download at www.transparency.ie


For any press enquiries please contact

John Devitt

Chief Executive, Transparency International Ireland
+353 1 554 3938
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Susheela Math

Legal Counsel and Manager of the Speak Up helpline, Transparency International Ireland
+353 1 554 3938
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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