Friday 20 April 2018

Maeve Dineen: We need a whistle-blower's charter for some home truths

Maeve Dineen

IT was a another great week for WikiLeaks, the whistle-blower's website that orchestrated a massive leak of secret US State Department cables.

Last week we learnt that Tullow Oil allegedly complained to the US ambassador about Italian rival ENI's actions in Uganda. The previous week, we learnt that the Hibernia Atlantic undersea cable landing in Dublin and the Genzyme factory in Waterford are two Irish locations considered vital to US national interests. The biotech plant was apparently named for its production of thymoglobulin, which is used by kidney transplant patients, while the cable is a transatlantic submarine communications system linking North America with Europe.

These revelations, along with the hundreds of other cables about everything from Colonel Gadaffi's love life to Putin's grip on the Kremlin, have taught us more about how US foreign policy really works than you could learn from a dozen academic tomes or two dozen political memoirs and government-sponsored reports.

News that the whistle-blower website is taking aim at Wall Street will have many panicking and many more salivating at the thought of getting a ringside view of life in one of the large investment banks as Lehman Brothers went under.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange plans to release a 'megaleak' next year about "a big US bank" -- assuming he is still at liberty to do so and his website is still operational.

The mysterious WikiLeaks founder promises information about unethical practices but not necessarily criminal activity which will give an insight into how banks behave at the executive level.

There will be some flagrant violations and unethical practices that will be revealed, but it will also be all the supporting decision-making structures and the internal executive ethos that comes out -- everything that Assange aptly calls " the ecosystem of corruption".

The leaked emails will also reveal all the "regular decision- making that turns a blind eye to and supports unethical practices: the oversight that's not done, the priorities of executives, how they think they're fulfiling their own self-interest".

Oh how I wish something like this could be done in Ireland! Does your mouth not salivate at the thought of reading about the thoughts and concerns of our top bankers as they walked this country over a cliff and into the hands of the International Monetary Fund?

A massive, detailed leak is exactly what we need right now -- a granular and believable explanation of what went wrong and how.

I have all but given up believing that we will get justice despite everything that has happened or even that heads on a plate make much sense in many cases, but most of us still deserve an explanation -- a real explanation.

It is interesting that nobody has come forward yet with a cache of information that could set the world of Irish banking on fire despite the thousands of people who are sitting in banks and will soon lose their jobs because of stupid decisions made by their superiors.

It seems as if the Irish don't do revenge but then again it seemed as if the Irish didn't do protests until recently. Perhaps a little bit of 21st century leaking might be next.

If so, you know where to find us but I won't hold my breath because the laws here are so incredibly unfavourable towards whistle-blowers.

The chilling treatment meted out to former AIB internal auditor Eugene McErlean is a case in point although McErlean was doing nothing more than his job.

The reality is that the authorities here have gone out of their way to stamp out whistle-blowing in the financial services sector. There are safeguards for whistle-blowers who report child abuse, breaches of workplace safety and welfare fraud but nothing for those who call a stop to bank fraud and the like.

There were some efforts made to create a whistle-blower's charter in 1999 when a bill came before the Dail but it was shelved for reasons which were never properly explained.

The country has many urgent problems. Legislation to make good the lack of such a charter is hardly a pressing problem but it might just prevent similar problems in future and Transparency International suggests a cheap off-the-shelf solution -- adoption of Britain's Public Interest Disclosure Act, which runs to a mere nine pages and applies to the entire private and public sectors in the UK. By this means we could have the legislation passed before the election is called.

It may not be the most elegant solution but we are all going to have to get used to cheap and cheerful legislation along with cheep and cheerful everything over the next few years. And if you really want to understand why, we need that whistle-blower's charter.

Irish Independent

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