Nine things you can do in Ireland that almost certainly won’t land you in jail

A country that can’t protect its citizens from the effects of wrongdoing is not a Republic

Charles Haughey arriving to face questioning at the Moriarty Tribunal. Photograph: Alan Betson

Charles Haughey arriving to face questioning at the Moriarty Tribunal. Photograph: Alan Betson


Beata Schmid has been told to turn up in the High Court in Dublin today packed for a trip to prison. An Garda Síochána has been told to make sure there are officers in court “with a view to conveying Ms Schmid to prison”.

Ms Schmid worked for a division of IBM Ireland and sees herself as a whistleblower. She told the court in her last appearance before Judge George Birmingham that she had discovered and reported “severe discrepancies” in sales records. She downloaded the data on to a memory stick which she took home. IBM then went to court and secured an order requiring her to hand over her laptop and the memory stick, which she did.

IBM then went back to court demanding the return of a second memory stick on to which it believes she made at least a partial copy of the data. She insists she does not have a second memory stick. The judge ordered her to produce it nonetheless and told her that she will go to prison today if she does not comply.

I make no comment on the rights and wrongs of this case. I don’t doubt at all that the court will apply the existing law fairly and with integrity. I merely draw attention to a certain poignancy – Beata Schmid, who rightly or wrongly sees herself as a corporate whistleblower, may well go to prison just days after the collapse of the trial of those accused of corrupting the planning process in Dublin.

Here are nine things for which we can say with confidence that Beata Schmid almost certainly would not go to jail.

1 Systematically paying workers a significant portion of their wages “under the counter”, without deducting tax and insurance. And regularly sourcing the cash for these from local banks using fraudulent cheques made out to nonexistent individuals. (Goodman beef processors, as concluded by the beef tribunal.)

2 Undermining the integrity of a key State commercial competition by exerting an “insidious and perverse” and “pervasive and abusive” influence on the process. (Michael Lowry, Moriarty tribunal report.)

3Acting in a manner that was “profoundly corrupt to a degree that was nothing short of breathtaking”. (Lowry and Ben Dunne, in relation to attempts to influence arbitration of rental payments to Dunne, Moriarty report.)

4 Making corruption “both systemic and endemic” at every level of Irish political life. (The Mahon tribunal)

5 Stealing money raised for a friend’s life-saving operation. The Moriarty tribunal found that Charles Haughey stole a “sizeable proportion” of Brian Lenihan’s medical fund.

6 Committing perjury. Charles Haughey lied to the McCracken tribunal, claiming that he had not received money from Ben Dunne but later conceding he had done so. The Bailey brothers “hindered and obstructed” the Flood tribunal in a number of ways, including making untrue statements under oath. Not only did Mick and Tom Bailey each give false evidence under oath, but the tribunal found that they had colluded to concoct that evidence.

7 Covering up and repeatedly facilitating sexual attacks on children by known predatory paedophiles. (Several Irish bishops, the Murphy report.)

8  Operating a massive and systematic tax fraud against the State. In 1993, the then huge sum of £2 billion was held in non-residential accounts the banks knew to be fraudulent. Allied Irish Bank alone had 88,000 “non-resident” accounts – the practice was highly organised throughout virtually all Irish banks. The public accounts committee found it to be “an industry-wide phenomenon”.

9 Manufacturing a therapeutic substance without a licence, not informing women that you knew had been infected with hepatitis C and not informing the Department of Health of the infection as you were obliged to do by law. (Senior management of the Blood Transfusion Service Board, Finlay report).

These are some of the socially destructive things you can do in Ireland, confident that there is a tiny chance you will be prosecuted, a tinier chance you will be convicted and a chance of going to jail that recedes towards vanishing point.

And this is not about the dark past: in the three years after the bank collapse, 2008, 2009 and 2010, the conviction
rate for white-collar offences fell dramatically. In 2004, there were 467 convictions for white-collar crimes; in 2010, there were just 178. This is in spite of the fact that the number of recorded white-collar offences rose by 33 per cent in the same period.

A country that can’t enforce its own laws against acts that cause immense damage to citizens is not merely not a republic – it’s not even a functioning State. And only a dysfunctional State would be refusing to talk about the catastrophic failure of its legal system.

* This article was amended on August 22nd, 2012 to correct a factual error

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