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Irish journalists back whistleblowing law

24 May 2012

The Irish Executive Council (IEC) of the NUJ has come out in support of the proposed whistleblower legislation in the Republic of Ireland. However, the IEC demanded strong legal protection for the protection of confidential journalistic sources.

Gerry Curran, IEC Cathaoirleach, and Séamus Dooley, NUJ Irish Secretary, appeared before the Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform alongside colleagues from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions led by NUJ member Esther Lynch.

The bill is still in draft form and Séamus Dooley told committee chair Alex White that the NUJ sees this Bill as one of set of measures needed to create a new culture of transparency in Irish society:

"... replacing the traditional Whitehall approach of secrecy with a culture of open government and open governance across the public and private sector, including the media and the trade union movement."

The primary function of this Bill is to provide appropriate measures for a whistle blower to disclose information through agreed channels. Séamus Dooley expressed reservation about the ability of employers to circumvent legislation and the requirement of due process.

He said:

"This is especially the case in non-unionised workplaces. In the UK, we are currently a core participant in the Leveson Inquiry and our General Secretary, Michelle Stanistreet, has made the point that in News International, for example, whistleblowing by journalists was impeded by a culture of bullying."

He added that there was no evidence that the practices revealed by the Leveson inquiry are widespread in Ireland, but added that it is worth saying that Whistleblower protection would certainly aid any journalist concerned at unethical or inappropriate behaviour in his or her workplace in the Republic of Ireland. The  NUJ is denied the right to collective representation in a number of media organisations in the country.

Gerry Curran told the committee that, as the union representing professional journalists in Ireland and the UK, the NUJ strongly support the principles behind the legislation.

"We have long called for a legal framework to protect whistle-blowers against punishment for disclosing information in the public interest. The public interest is best served where employees are enabled and empowered to blow the whistle on wrongdoing, illegality and inappropriate behaviour."

Gerry Curran said that the Bill represents a shift in the culture of administration in the country, a move away from the culture of secrecy that has served to protect wrongdoers and has placed a premium on compliance and silence - encouraging a blind eye to corruption and abuse of power and authority in both the public and private sector. Open, honest organisations, in the public and private sector, have nothing to fear from legislation governing transparency in the workplace.

The Cathaoirleach, in a reference to business lobby groups who have been briefing against the legislation. said:

"We reject the notion that Whistleblower legislation poses a threat to business or that multinational companies would view Whistleblower legislation as a disincentive to investing in Ireland. On the contrary, Ireland's reputation can only be enhanced by a culture which recognises the value of honesty, integrity and truth in business."

The IEC also called for reform of the Freedom of Information Act and an end to the constant pressure by Gardaí on journalists despite a Supreme Court ruling that recognised the rights of journalists to protect confidential sources of information.

Séamus Dooley told the committee Gardaí seem determined to ignore the legal rights recognised in the Supreme Court and in the European Court.

Tags: , whistleblowers, iec, protection of sources, transparency, garda, leveson, news international, government ireland