Wednesday, 15 September 2021
Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed) - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement
47. To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will outline, in the context of the corporate enforcement authority, the organisational structure and the required human resources from the perspective of the civil and public service and the Garda Síochána; and if a memorandum of understanding is or will be put in place to ensure guaranteed Garda resources are available at all times. [44054/21]
Under the recently published Companies (Corporate Enforcement Authority) Bill 2021, the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, ODCE, will be taken over by an independent statutory agency, namely, the corporate enforcement authority. The aim is to have that body up and running by 1 January. Will there be a memorandum of understanding with the Garda regarding resources available at all times?
The Government approved publication of the Companies (Corporate Enforcement Authority) Bill 2021 in July and it will be presented to the House tomorrow for its Second Stage reading. When enacted, the Bill will give effect to the programme for Government commitment to transform the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement into the corporate enforcement authority, CEA, which will be an independent statutory agency.
The new authority will have a commission structure. This structure will allow the authority to bring in expertise as necessary to meet the different demands of its remit, which includes investigation, prosecution, supervision and advocacy. It also allows for clear lines of responsibility and enhances the capacity of the authority to investigate numerous complex investigations simultaneously.
In April, the Tánaiste received the report of the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment following its pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. The report was carefully considered. It stressed the need for sufficient resources being available to the authority. This is something on which the Tánaiste and I agree. In line with an assessment of the new authority’s staffing needs by the Director of Corporate Enforcement, my Department has already increased the budget of the ODCE by €1 million over previous levels and sanctioned 14 additional staff at Civil Service grades, representing a 35% increase in such staff.
As regards increased Garda resources, as part of his assessment the director identified a need for an additional nine members of An Garda Síochána to be assigned to the authority. Although the Garda Commissioner and the director are independent in their statutory functions, the Government has noted the Garda Commissioner’s confirmation to the director that nine additional members of An Garda Síochána will be provided to the authority. This means the level of Garda resources available to the director will be doubled. The total increase in the overall headcount for the new CEA will be nearly 50% on previous levels.
I look forward to the enactment of the Bill and the establishment of the authority at the earliest opportunity.
There was a problem with the secondment of gardaí to the ODCE. An article on the matter written by Ken Foxe was published in The Irish Timessome time ago. Essentially, the director wrote to the Garda Commissioner seeking six new detectives but all he got in return was an acknowledgement. It took a long time to fulfil that need. They are absolutely critical to the working of this new legislation, as the Minister of State is more than aware. Will there be a memorandum of understanding between the Garda and the new corporate enforcement authority? How can it be guaranteed that the priorities for the Garda Commissioner will not lie elsewhere? There is a history of what was requested not being provided.
I point out that the director of corporate enforcement and the Garda Commissioner are statutorily independent in their functions. Matters relating to Garda resources are an operational matter for the Garda Commissioner. As it moves to establish the authority, the Government fully supports additional Garda Síochána resources being made available based on its statutory functions, its assessment of its resourcing needs and the vision of the Government for the new authority. As part of the Government's decision to publish the Bill, it noted and welcomed the Garda Commissioner's written confirmation to the director that nine additional members of An Garda Síochána will be seconded to the authority with effect from its establishment. This is in line with the assessment of the Director of Corporate Enforcement of the Garda staffing needs of the authority.
I hope this works out very well because there has been underprovision in the area but there is also the fact that white-collar crime has not been taken as seriously as other types of crime. Some of that is down to the fragmentation of organisations such as the ODCE. I hope its successor will be more successful, but it can only be successful if it is independent and has the resources to do the job. Obviously, the Minister of State is giving me an assurance based on the written confirmation from the Commissioner. We will see how that plays out. I still have concerns in that regard because of the fragmentation of how the State goes about corporate enforcement.
The Deputy is right that white-collar crime is a menace. It is not a victimless crime and it is important that we take tough action against it. That is why there is a commitment in the programme for Government to establish this statutory body. It will be autonomous and independent in nature and it will have the powers to recruit the relevant expertise that is needed. That has already been commenced.
As regards the staffing arrangements between the authority and the Garda Síochána, the director and the Commissioner have committed to developing a new, formal and detailed arrangement in respect of the secondment of Garda resources to the new authority. Matters such as the filling of vacancies as they arise, funding etc. will be dealt with by way of written agreement. The Deputy is correct that there was an issue in the past. Thankfully, although both bodies are independent in nature, they have come together and formalised the arrangement and the Government welcomes that.