Wednesday, 1 April 2015
Protected Disclosures in the Public Interest
11. To ask the Minister for Finance if he is aware that many of the whistleblowers at Provident Personal Credit Limited have had their contacts terminated; and if he will raise the issue with the Central Bank of Ireland, which found against Provident in December 2014. [13101/15]
I copied the Minister on a letter which Deputy Mac Lochlainn and I sent to the enforcement section of the Central Bank. In the letter, we summarised how, in December 2014, after receiving information from whistleblowers via us, the Central Bank fined Provident Personal Credit €105,000 "in respect of consumer protection failures relating to money lending loans". The charges against Provident were very serious: it was preying on very vulnerable people. I wrote to the enforcement section of the Central Bank because Provident has terminated the contracts of all five of the whistleblowers who sent the information to me and thence to the Central Bank. What does the Minister intend to do? This sends a very bad signal to whistleblowers in financial services. Does the Minister propose to take any action? Does he propose to engage with the Central Bank or the licensed moneylender?
As the Deputy will appreciate, it would be inappropriate for me, as Minister for Finance, to comment on actions taken by any company in relation to specific employees. While I cannot provide legal advice on possible courses of action available to individuals who consider that they have been unfairly dismissed, I would advise such individuals to seek appropriate legal advice.
I am aware that the Central Bank fined Provident Personal Credit Limited €105,000 and reprimanded it for breaches of legislation relating to certain moneylending practices late last year. In its announcement of the settlement, the Central Bank made it clear that, where licensed moneylenders fail to ensure full compliance with their legal obligations, they should expect vigorous investigation and follow up by the Central Bank, and for the Central Bank to exercise its sanctioning powers where appropriate. I have been informed by the Central Bank that it cannot discuss specific regulated financial service providers and I am not aware of the full details of the issue to which the Deputy refers. I understand that the Central Bank would welcome any information anyone wishes to provide regarding concerns they may have about firms it regulates. All such information received is reviewed and considered as part of the Central Bank's ongoing regulation of financial service providers.
Part 5 of the Central Bank (Supervision and Enforcement) Act 2013 provides protections for individuals who make "protected disclosures" to the Central Bank. These protections are separate from the protections which apply by virtue of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014. It is a matter for the Central Bank to ensure it uses its powers to ensure that individuals are protected and that it can continue to receive such disclosures. I am aware that the Deputy has raised the matter directly with the Central Bank and I trust that he will be satisfied that the bank ensures that the provisions of the Central Bank (Supervision and Enforcement) Act 2013 are used in a manner which ensures that employees are not penalised for reporting wrongdoing. The Protected Disclosures Act 2014 is a matter for my colleague the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin.
I welcome all of that. Five employees of Provident came to me and Deputy Mac Lochlainn and gave us detailed documentation of irregularities in the company, which we passed on to the Central Bank. The Central Bank carried out an investigation, found Provident guilty of the charges that had been levelled and fined it €105,000. However, Provident terminated the contracts of all five employees, and this sends out a terrible signal to whistleblowers in financial services. We need something stronger from the Minister. It is unacceptable that whistleblowers who are in employment, provide documentation to the Central Bank and whose allegations are proven correct have their contracts terminated. I would like to hear more from the Minister about what he intends to so, not just citing the existing legislation and the responsibilities of the Central Bank.
Does he intend to raise this with the Central Bank and to ask it to investigate if the termination of the contracts of these five whistleblowers was connected with the fact that they blew the whistle on the company in the first place or does he just intend to stand by and allow the bank to deal with it itself?