Belfast Telegraph

Jail threat 'deters whistleblowers'

A six-month jail threat hanging over whistleblowers in Ireland could be deterring some from exposing wrongdoing, Europe's corruption watchdog has warned.

The Group of States Against Corruption (Greco) said it was concerned about the severity of the punishment for leaking confidential files brought in with laws enacted last year to allow the Oireachtas to carry out inquiries.

The imminent inquiry into the banking crisis has been set up under the Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Act 2013.

Greco, which monitors anti-corruption laws and practices across Europe and the US, has told the Irish Government the jail threat provided for in the legislation "carries the risk of discouraging whistleblowers from coming forward with suspicions or evidence of wrongdoing, including corruption and other similar misbehaviour."

The Strasbourg-headquartered agency said the recent whistleblower legislation enacted in July, the Protected Disclosures Act 2014, is at odds with the existing law.

Under the earlier legislation, potential whistleblowers who are not TDs or the author of the confidential information to be passed on still face the "rather severe" sanction of a jail term, Greco says.

It has asked the government to clarify the laws.

The coalition has until next April to respond to the recommendation - one of 11 made in its latest 48-page assessment of the country.

The international watchdog has been specifically scrutinising measures in Ireland to prevent corruption among TDs, senators, judges and prosecutors.

It says there is growing concern about corruption in the country.

Ireland's drop in world corruption rankings in recent years could be as a result of the Mahon Tribunal, it suggests.

The watchdog also finds low levels of trust in political parties and politicians, adding that the "Irish authorities are well aware of this and reforms are under way."

However, it attacks the "patchwork" of rules governing the conduct of TDs and Senators as too complex and sometimes contradictory.

While Oireachtas members are obliged to declare their own interests, there is no requirement for them to register the interests of people close to them, including their own staff.

The watchdog has urged Dublin to bring in a new ethical code of conduct which covers persons closely connected to TDs and senators as well as conflicts of interest such as gifts, other advantages, lobbyists and future jobs.

Furthermore, it wants to see dedicated, regular training for elected representatives in ethics, conflicts of interest and preventing corruption.

On judges, it has called for the immediate introduction of a judicial council to oversee appointments and training as well as the setting-up of an ethical code for judges.

The current system for selecting, recruiting and promoting judges is "susceptible to political lobbying and favouritism" and needs to be reviewed, it says.

It has also urged a more transparent prosecution service with a better system for receiving and handling complaints.

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