Thursday, 3 June 2021
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
The Deputy will be aware that the Justice Plan 2021 commits to tackling economic, or white collar, crime and corruption by implementing, in collaboration with other agencies, new anti-corruption and anti-fraud measures informed by the Hamilton review.
The report of the Hamilton review group, the Review of Structures and Strategies to Prevent, Investigate and Penalise Economic Crime and Corruption, was published in December 2020. It contains a number of recommendations focusing primarily on legislative, structural and resourcing measures to enhance the capacity of agency and multi-agency enforcement, and the prevention of corruption and white-collar crime.
The Minister, Deputy McEntee, published the cross-government plan on implementing the Hamilton review on 19 April 2021. The implementation plan sets out 22 actions to be completed by State agencies and Departments to progress the Hamilton report’s recommendations within the next year and a half, and sets timelines for the completion of these actions. The actions in the implementation plan include an advisory council against economic crime and corruption to advise and make proposals on strategic and policy responses that will be established at the centre of Government by the autumn; a multi-annual strategy to combat economic crime and corruption will be developed and submitted to Cabinet by next spring; and a resourcing plan for the long-term needs of the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau will be submitted by An Garda Síochána to the Policing Authority and Department of Justice by this summer. Legislation to extend the surveillance powers currently available to An Garda Síochána and the Revenue Commissioners to other bodies with a remit to investigate economic crime and corruption is to be developed by the end of this year, among other legislative proposals.
I can inform the Deputy that work is under way in my Department to establish a cross-sector, partnership-based advisory council against economic crime and corruption to lead implementation of the action plan, including the establishment of a forum of operational representatives.
There are many positive things in the Hamilton report. It is about seeing it delivered on. I would prefer if there were a single agency but we will disagree on that. Of the 20 or so actions and business cases that were flagged for completion of quarter 2 of this year, how many of them will be achieved? Are they on target? If they are going to be implemented effectively, there must be collaboration between the various law enforcement agencies. How will that be achieved? How will existing agencies and public authorities be handled in terms of whether they are meeting each other and whether there is co-operation? Will there be co-operation and how will that be achieved? Is there a plan of action for the legislative process, because we do not want to see delays on that front?
The draft terms of reference for the advisory council and forum of senior representatives are at an advanced stage of development. Preparatory meetings of the relevant Departments and agencies have already taken place to finalise them for both groups. It is important to say that the actions contained in the implementation plan are not solely the responsibility of the Department of Justice and they will fall to be implemented by a number of other Departments and bodies. For instance, matters relating to the ethics in public office review are for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, while recommendations to strengthen competition law fall within the remit of the Tánaiste and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
On progressing the implementation of plan, since it was agreed by the Government in April significant progress has been made in implementing the structural and systemic recommendations. These recommendations lay the foundations for advancing many of the actions in the plan. Draft terms of reference for the advisory council and the forum of senior representatives have been prepared, and consultation on these texts are at an advanced stage.
The Hamilton report identified a significant number of issues in terms of agency resources such as personnel, ICT, and other issues. Are they going to be provided for in tandem or will we see them at the tail end of the process? Is that likely to be something which will be undertaken? Very often, we see legislation as policy but in fact it is about the implementation. How will that and procurement and recruitment be handled? I am concerned we will continue with a fragmented approach. Other jurisdictions have introduced an anti-corruption agency as opposed to various agencies. It is easier to hold one agency to account.
On the resources allocated to the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau, GNECB, I am advised by the Garda Commissioner that as of 30 April this year there are 89 garda members assigned to the GNECB, with the breakdown being one chief superintendent, two superintendents, two inspectors, 22 sergeants, and 62 garda. This represents an increase of 17 members deployed to the bureau since the end of February this year. Further staff are due to be assigned to the bureau in 2021, following interviews held in 2020. The reassignment of all garda staff was impacted by Covid-19 demands. The allocation of garda staff to specialist units, including the GNECB, has recently commenced. Therefore, resourcing will be supplied.