New plan to target white-collar crime and nepotism in public office

Review found staff shortages in some key Garda units worse than 30 years ago

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said the State   “must have all the powers available to clamp down and prevent white-collar crime”. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said the State “must have all the powers available to clamp down and prevent white-collar crime”. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

 

A new plan on white-collar crime will be introduced by the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee after a review identified significant resource shortcomings, with staffing in some key Garda economic crime units worse than 30 years ago.

The review was undertaken by former Director of Public Prosecutions James Hamilton. While agencies function well given limitations, resources in key divisions such as the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) “are inadequate to meet existing demands as well as the increasing demands which will arise in the future”, Mr Hamilton found.

In 1992, the fraud squad had 45 permanent members of staff, but there was just 31 permanent investigators in the GNECB in 2019. “Resourcing, which was already insufficient in 1992, has not kept pace with the growing volume and complexity of economic crime and with international demands and obligations.”

The review also recommends strengthening the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo), allowing it to investigate former Oireachtas members. It also recommends strengthening ethics acts in areas like nepotism, preferential treatment and improper use of influence.

Ms McEntee said: “The State and its agencies must have all the powers available to clamp down and prevent white-collar crime.”

“Corruption and white-collar crime damages our economy, breeds cynicism in our society and is a threat to our international reputation,” the Minister said.

The report identifies threats from economic crime to financial services sector, arguing the State “punches well above its weight” in the industry, and its “vulnerability… to economic crime and corruption cannot be over-emphasised”.

If the sector is not well-policed, Mr Hamilton warns “Ireland’s position as a major financial service centre could be called into question to the detriment of our national interest”. With headquarters of tech and pharmaceutical firms here, failing to investigate economic crime “would create a huge potential reputational risk for Ireland”.

Anti-corruption unit

Shortcomings are identified across several Garda units: there are not enough staff assigned to the anti-corruption unit, which is “dwarfed by its international partners”, while resources for the Payment Card and Counterfeit Currency Unit are “too low… to disrupt the activities of organised criminals in this sphere”.

There is a backlog of 2,000 suspicious transaction reports with the Financial Intelligence Unit, where staffing is “not adequate to meet demand”. This “is of concern as these unanalysed reports may contain evidence of significant criminality”.

The Terrorist Financing Intelligence Unit is “under resourced”, with the report finding that “having adequate resources to show that Ireland is playing its part in this area is critical”.

It finds there is “a huge deficit exists” within the Money Laundering Investigation Units. In the Criminal Intelligence Office, it found that not all functions are being carried out due to inadequate staffing.

The Garda budget has increased in recent years by 30 per cent, from €1.5 billion in 2016 to €1.95 billion in 2021

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