Vital to protect whistleblowers

That the Government is to proceed with legislation to protect so-called “whistleblowers” who seek to expose wrong-doing in either the public or private sectors, is to be welcomed.

Such laws are prevalent in other jurisdictions, and moves to implement such laws here would represent and require a significant cultural shift. While many companies already have policies in relation to whistleblowing, many employees do not have faith in them due to lack of statutory protections and, because of this, the turn-a blind-eye and say-nothing-lads culture continues. In the current economic climate, people are reluctant to rock the boat — particularly after what happened to Louise Bayliss, the advocacy worker who exposed the fact that female patients were being moved to ‘lock-up’ units in St Brendan’s, Grangegorman over the Christmas period due to staff shortages. It was only after immense political pressure was brought to bear on the situation that she was reinstated to her position.

The new laws must seek to protect workers from being subject to “occupational detriment” and also provide immunity against civil and criminal liability. What is unclear is how the system will work. Legal remedies can only be applied after the fact. If employees are dismissed even though they reported in good faith, as in the case of Louise Bayliss, their only recourse is unfair dismissal procedures which hardly ever result in the person getting their job back.

The Labour Relations Commission is best placed to draw up a statutory code of practice with regard to whistleblowing as they are the experts with regard to resolving disputes between employees and employers. Allowing the LRC to take ownership of this key protective legislation also negates the need for an Office of Whistleblowing Protection which many countries such as the United States have. Ireland can little afford another State agency given the state of our coffers.

The Government owes us to get this thing right. Perhaps if we had protective whistleblower laws before now we wouldn’t have had a banking crisis, Priory Hall or the Cloyne Report. Somebody would have called time, safe in the knowledge that their livelihoods were safe and that is more important now than ever before.

Killian Brennan

Malahide Road

Dublin 17

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