Wednesday 28 June 2017

Central Bank board concerned whistleblower phone line not manned

The Central Bank headquarters in Dublin
The Central Bank headquarters in Dublin
Charlie Weston

Charlie Weston

Members of the board of the Central Bank expressed concern that a whistleblower phone line operated by the regulator was unmanned and emails did not get a response.

The Irish Independent exposed the fact that the phone line was unmanned, it had no facility for leaving a message and emails were not answered.

Now minutes from the January board meeting of the Central Bank show a review of the operation of the whistleblower line is to be carried out after board members said they were not happy with the situation.

Following the banking collapse, the Central Bank was told to put a so-called protected disclosure facility in place that would allow staff in financial services companies to report questionable and illegal activity, particularly in banks.

The banking collapse cost taxpayers €64bn.

According to the minutes of the board meeting, known as the Central Bank Commission, deputy governor Sharon Donnery noted media reporting concerning the whistleblowing contact telephone line.

How we revealed the story about the unmanned hotline in the Irish Independent on January 26
How we revealed the story about the unmanned hotline in the Irish Independent on January 26

"An internal review had taken place and some issues with the phone line were identified, which have since been rectified.

"The email address was working and the individual who had made contact via email would have received an automated reply in the first instance. Procedures were being reviewed."

The minutes detail how some board members expressed concerns about the issue and noted the importance of the bank having appropriate whistleblower contact points in place. Ms Donnery said she would return to the board with an update.

Legislation was enacted in 2013 to give whistleblowers protection when making disclosures to the Central Bank.

As well as protecting the whistleblowers, the protected disclosures law places obligations on certain categories of people in firms to disclose breaches of financial services legislation to the Central Bank.

Whistleblowers making a disclosure under the law must have reasonable grounds for believing there has been a breach of financial services legislation or the concealment or destruction of evidence relating to such an offence.

Crucially, the protected disclosures law means whistleblowers are protected from civil liability, and their employer may not penalise them for making the disclosure.

Crime

An employer may be prosecuted for penalising an employee who makes a protected disclosure.

Compliance officer with Irish Mortgage Brokers Karl Deeter said it was not good enough that the whistleblower phone line was not being answered and emails not getting a response.

"Imagine if you called 999 to report a crime and no one answered. What would you think of our police service?" he said.

A Central Bank spokesman claimed the problem had been rectified after the situation was raised with it by the Irish Independent.

"This arose from an IT problem. When notified of the outage, we immediately amended the numbers on the website to ensure that calls were routed to a staff member's number, restoring access for anyone looking to make a disclosure.

"The 1890 number is now restored, and is back on centralbank.ie."

The Central Bank insists correspondence received by it through its protected disclosure channel is treated seriously and examined thoroughly.

"It is a valuable channel for the Central Bank to receive reports in a confidential form.

"Where a person wishes to disclose to the Central Bank an alleged offence, breach of financial services legislation or concealment or destruction of evidence of such, they may make the disclosure by post, email or over the phone," the spokesman said.

Irish Independent

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