Wednesday, 24 October 2007
Question 78: To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment his plans to increase funding and resources for the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25674/07]
The total approved staffing complement for the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, ODCE, has already been increased this year from 37 to 41 posts. A further increase of four posts is planned to take place by the end of this year. The recruitment process is under way. In addition, I understand that the director is pursuing with the Garda Commissioner the possibility of additional Garda staff. The possibility of further increases in the staffing of the ODCE in 2008 and beyond will be examined in the context of Government policy in respect of public service numbers.
In regard to the funding of the ODCE, the pre-budget Estimates for 2008, which were published on 18 October by the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance, provide for an increase of 3% in the allocation to the agency. Any further increases in the office's financial allocations will be subject to review by my Department in consultation with the Department of Finance.
My question particularly related to recent court decisions in the Airspace versus Powertech case and the Panabridge case where essentially Ms Justice Laffoy, in her wisdom, decided perhaps that it is no longer appropriate for companies to seek actions, under sections 150 and 160 of the Companies Act, to have a company reinstated. The effect of that decision is that it falls entirely on the director of corporate enforcement to ensure that companies go through the liquidation process properly. Without doing that, hundreds of thousands of creditors will have no recourse to the law and will not be able to get their money back from companies that fold. It is obvious that the Director of Corporate Enforcement will require staff in the order of 400 rather than 41 to fulfil his obligations.
Will the Minister advise me on the number of companies involuntarily struck off the register last year? Given these recent court decisions, does the Minister envisage the Director of Corporate Enforcement taking on the role of pursuing companies? What is the Minister's view of the 80,000 or so cowboy directors whose companies have folded and who subsequently establish other companies without having properly liquidated their previous companies?
That is a completely different question from the one tabled. We can reply in detail to the Deputy later in terms of the specifics of that question. The question he tabled is about the funding and resources for the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement and whether I will make a statement on the matter.
I wish to clarify the backdrop to the increase in resources for that office. The director made a submission to the Department last year seeking approval for the allocation of 20 extra staff. He did not identify that issue as the key one but rather identified a range of issues. He requested that eight staff be allocated by the year end with four in situ by then. We will have allocated eight of the 20 additional staff sought and the issue of allocating six additional gardaí is being pursued with the Garda Commissioner. If that comes through, a further six people will be allocated, which the director has indicated he would require. We are now in the middle of the Estimates cycle and are engaged in discussions with the Department of Finance in that regard.
The agency has made substantial progress. Our difficulty is in terms of the employment numbers to which we are obliged to adhere. We must consider a range of demands from various agencies. The staff in the National Employment Rights Authority, NERA, has increased from 31 to 90, the Labour Court, LRC and EAT have been allocated 25 additional staff; the Competition Authority has been allocated seven additional staff; 50 new posts have been allocated to FÁS apprenticeship training; 44 additional staff were sanctioned for the Health and Safety Authority, of whom 23 are in place and 21 are being recruited for implementation of the Reach directive; sanction has been received for seven contract staff for the National Consumer Agency, bringing the total to 15 staff for the agency; and two additional staff have been sought for IASSID, which brings the total staff complement there to 17. We must work within the constraints of those demands. We have recruited 257 staff for all the agencies. The issue in question is the prioritising of the allocation of staff required.
In terms of its criminal enforcement proceedings, the ODCE has secured 48 convictions of company directors in 2006. The civil enforcement proceedings secured 14 disqualifications and two restrictions in 2006 and there was a range of other proceedings. Some 100 directors of insolvent companies were also restricted by the High Court in 2006 on the application of liquidators made with the ODCE's assent. Nearly €160 million was repaid by directors and connected persons to their companies after excessive use had been made by them of company assets.
The director has had considerable success. We are anxious to do what we can to support him in his ongoing mission. Given the short timespan he has been in office, he has made an impact.
In that regard, is the Minister aware of those judgments and of the fact that the courts are taking the view that it is the role of the Director of Corporate Enforcement to pursue the thousands of companies that were involuntarily struck off the register? Is it the Minister's view that the Director of Corporate Enforcement should take on that role? If so, should he be resourced to do so and will the Minister ensure that?
I would have to get analyses on those court judgments and their full implications from the Attorney General and our own people. The remit of the director is as wide as one would want it, and that applies to the remits of many agencies. Inevitably there will be a need for prioritisation and targeting. There must be a realistic assessment of what is achievable. That is the context in which we will approach the resourcing of the agency. The agency has grown and I acknowledge it has a significant workload. I must work in the budgetary context of the resources available to me and do what I can to allocate resources across the agencies.
The emphasis in the Department last year was on employment rights compliance and the need to do something to significantly improve our capacity. The social partners and the House agreed with that emphasis and that received priority last year. We got good results which are to be seen. It is a question of competing priorities within the system. I will take on board what the Deputy said. The number of staff in the office will have increased by eight by the end of the year.