Revealed: the three-year saga to hire six accountants for ODCE

Records show catalogue of delays and job ad that ‘could have been drafted by a child’

Ian Drennan, Director of Corporate Enforcement,  said the entire process had been “nothing short of a disgrace”. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Ian Drennan, Director of Corporate Enforcement, said the entire process had been “nothing short of a disgrace”. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

The Office of Director of Corporate Enforcement took almost three years to hire six senior accountants.

At one stage, ODCE boss Ian Drennan said the entire process had been “nothing short of a disgrace” and that he would be “mortified” about a job advertisement filled with errors appearing in the national press.

The saga over getting the posts filled caused major discord within the office and also the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, records released under Freedom of Information have revealed.

The ODCE first came looking for the posts in April 2013 after Mr Drennan, who had recently been appointed the director of corporate enforcement, carried out a staffing review at the office.

There was disquiet at the time because the ODCE had only one accountant available at a time when it was dealing with major investigations.

“The situation arising, where one of the main investigating agencies of those billion-euro events has only one accountant’s experience to call upon, is an unacceptable situation,” a departmental submission at the time stated.

By February 2014, seven months after the ODCE had first sought to recruit, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) had still not sanctioned additional staff. An email between civil servants said: “I consider that the delay by DPER in responding to requests for sanction is not acceptable.

“Enforcement bodies such as the ODCE . . . should not be starved of key skills which they have identified are necessary to enable them to fulfil their statutory mandates.”

Escalated

The email suggested that the matter now needed to be escalated and that then minister Richard Bruton would contact his ministerial colleague Brendan Howlin directly.

In the face of continued inaction, one email the following month directly linked the delays in getting sanction to the banking crisis.

It said: “It is difficult not to see the delays in sanctioning recruitment (due to scarce public money) as being the result of the State having to aid private institutions that got into difficulty due to poor corporate governance.”

In May, with sanction for the jobs still not approved, the ODCE was separately contacted with a request to cut its costs by more than 6 per cent. An email by the regulator’s now head of insolvency, Conor O’Mahony, said the latest cut proposed could have a “material risk” on whether they could properly investigate and prosecute significant cases.

A letter from Mr Bruton was finally sent to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in June pleading the case for the extra accountants. Sanction was not granted until October, however, at which point the Department of Jobs began the process of getting the hunt for the new posts started.

Seven months later, in May 2015, nothing had happened. Work on the advertisement had been “crowded out” by a variety of issues in the personnel section of the Department of Jobs.

At a meeting between the Department and the ODCE in July, the regulator again pleaded for the process to be speeded up and asked that the jobs be advertised the following month.

Crossed wires

By September, with no further progress, Mr Drennan wrote directly to the department saying he was “anxious to progress this matter”. A commitment was then made that the jobs would be advertised early in November but, once again, crossed wires saw it delayed.

In late November, the text of the advertisement was circulated. According to the documents revealed under Freedom of Information, it was seriously problematic. One internal email said: “It would be an embarrassment to the department if it were to be published as drafted.”

Ian Drennan was also furious and, in an email, said: “Personally, I have nothing further to say on this subject. The manner in which this has been dealt with is nothing short of a disgrace.”

In a separate email, he said the advertisement made no sense and “reads as though it was drafted by a child”.

Kevin Prendergast, the ODCE’s head of enforcement, said the advertisement did not even include a description of the actual job involved. He wrote: “What will issue tomorrow is something of a slap in the face for us all.”

The advertisement – with some of the alleged mistakes corrected – did eventually appear and 46 people applied for the posts. Further delay ensued because of difficulties in getting a fraud expert for the panel.

It was only in March 2016, almost three years after the exercise began, that the appointments were finally confirmed after successful candidates were selected.

Asked about the catalogue of delays, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, in a statement, said: “The challenges inherent in the recruitment of specialist staff resulted in delays recruiting these specialist staff once sanction had been secured.”