Why are whistle blowers treated so badly?

In light of the recent Maurice McCabe scandal, I felt it was worth discussing whistle blowers. It seems like whistle blowers in this country are subjected to horrific smear campaigns. This is the case in many countries, a prime example being Chelsea Manning in the USA, a former US Army Intelligence Analyst who leaked sensitive information to Wikileaks. The information she disclosed detailed the atrocities of Guantanamo Bay Prison, where suspects were held for years without any charges. The Baghdad airstrikes were also disclosed by Manning, which were videos showing the US Amy firing at unarmed citizens and journalists from a helicopter. The information would have remained hidden if Manning didn’t leak it. Isn’t it the right of the public to know about the gross misconduct of the US Army?  Yet Manning  was court-martialed, and it also didn’t help that she was a transgender woman. She was forced to serve her sentence in a male prison, leading to two suicide attempts. Is this the price whistle blowers should pay for speaking up and trying to do the right thing? She was handed a sentence of 35 years, the longest sentence in history regarding leaks. Thankfully, she was been granted clemency by Obama in one of his last acts as US President.

Similar stories of whistle blowers enduring hardships and smear campaigns are common in Ireland. The recent University of Limerick scandal details how the whistle blowers have been managed out and suspended from their jobs for trying to speak up. A certain department in UL had an illegal expenses policy, and was forcing employees to sign off on expense claims for spa treatments, fitted kitchens and petrol money for lecturers and other employees in the thousands. This was blatant tax evasion and Leona O’Callaghan details it in her video she posted online. She was forced out of her job, and now her replacement, who is too scared to even reveal their identity, has been suspended because they also weren’t comfortable signing off on false expense claims. Both speak of their experiences of a hostile work environment, bullying, threatening behavior and being “frozen out” by co-workers. They have even attended counselling to help deal with the trauma. A third colleague and fellow whistle blower went with them to Dublin to stage a sit-in at the Department of Education, as the Higher Education Authority vindicated their claims of wrong-doing and tax evasion, but did not have the power to force the University to cooperate. Bear in mind this initial HEA investigation cost the tax payer €80,000, as if UL aren’t already profiting off us enough with hair appointments and false mileage! Two of the whistle blowers were also offered hush money, lump-sum payments of €60,000, to walk away. Is this our solution when allegations of misconduct arise? Try to hush them up with money? Neither of the whistle blowers accepted the bribe.

Perhaps the most high-profile case of a whistle blower smear campaign is that of Maurice McCabe. Maurice McCabe is a well-known Garda whistle blower, exposing the penalty points scandal whereby Gardai illegally wiped penalty points from licenses. The botched handling of the case led to the resignation of the then Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, and the resignation of the Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan. It has now been alleged that Callinan and the new Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan launched a smear campaign against McCabe, including a false allegation of child sexual abuse handed over to Tulsa. This has had a detrimental effect on McCabe’s career and family. However, some people seem to think the attitude of McCabe was all wrong. As usual, it is the shut up and sit down approach here in Ireland when it comes to handling any form of allegations.

Lets not forget what silence and the discouragement of whistle blowing does. It allows crimes to take place, such as the child abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, the Magdalene Laundries, and the Dr Neary case, where a doctor illegally and unnecessarily performed hysterectomies on women after childbirth, leaving them unable to have children again. Some of these women were as young as 27. So instead of criminalising the whistle blowers, how about we listen to them, and actually put a stop to wrong doing?

 

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