Thursday, 25 May 2017
Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement: Statements
If committing a crime in Ireland, wear a suit. The chances of being caught are probably directly proportionate to the price of the suit worn. Given media reports, the only source of information available to the House until today, which says a lot in itself, it is beyond credible that the Government could be surprised at the collapse of the case. It appears that journalists covering the case, who were restricted in their reporting, were fully aware that the case would be dismissed. For the Government to state now that it wants a report on this from the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement is far too little far too late.
I raised the question of white collar crime during Leaders' Questions last week and highlighted that the staffing levels at the ODCE had fallen by more than 18% since 2010 and that the number of gardaí working in the office has been reduced by 24.5%. At one point, there was only one garda seconded to the ODCE, while 20 gardaí are working in the Department of Social Protection. This shows where the priority lies in detecting crime and who Fine Gael sees as being the criminals. However, it is not only Fine Gael who do not see crooks in suits as a problem. Fianna Fáil told the ODCE, when it highlighted it was under-resourced, to get in line in 2007. In 2015, when the first case collapsed, Deputy Howlin was the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and sat at the Cabinet table. What did they do then?
It is estimated that Ireland loses about €2.5 billion a year from economic crime. That is €25 billion over the past ten years. However, that is okay because they are the people who buy tables at party fund-raisers. Today the Minister announced that this will be investigated and lessons learned. We already know what is wrong. It has been pointed out by the ODCE itself and by the Garda Inspectorate. The question is one of resources. However, we also now have to ask what was known all along about this case. The chronology of some of the events have been outlined by Deputy Boyd Barrett. The Minister outlined in her response the steps that have been taken by the ODCE. I wonder when these steps started? Was it after June 2015 when the first case collapsed? Why was the second case taken? Why was there a second prosecution? The same evidence was to be used and presented, yet the Government and the DPP, knowing it would collapse, allowed a second prosecution to go ahead.
In 2015, the Garda Inspectorate report noted that the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation was struggling to manage the volume of suspicious financial transactions forwarded as part of money laundering and terrorism financing legislation. The report also found that the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation is investigating serious fraud without always having the skills and resources to conduct a thorough investigation. This shows the Government's priorities. It will go after and hound those in receipt of social welfare. Fraud does take place there but these people have nothing and will have nothing at the end of it. The people the Government is letting go and not targeting, however, are those who will walk away wealthy, with big pensions and with their names and freedom intact.
Other parties in the House are saying that we need an anti-corruption agency. In his leadership pitch, the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, is saying that he will establish one. However, do we really need another agency or board and an inordinate delay in its establishment that allows politicians to say that they are dealing with the issue? We do not. We need the Government to act and to do what it knows needs to be done. We already have the agencies; we have just never taken them seriously. We have never made them work on behalf of the citizens of the country. The potential savings for our society are huge at more than €2.5 billion a year, against which the amount of social welfare fraud that takes place in the State pales into insignificance.
The most important question is when the Government will show our citizens that the criminal law is not only a law for the poor and the defenceless. When will it begin to address the scandal and start targeting those crooks in suits?