MacGill school: Ireland suffers ‘conspiracy of neglect’ on white collar crime

‘If the centre is to hold State must treat all its citizens equally,’ says Prof Gary Murphy

Dáithí Ó Ceallaigh, former ambassador to London, said he feared for the future in relation to the political stalemate in Northern Ireland

Dáithí Ó Ceallaigh, former ambassador to London, said he feared for the future in relation to the political stalemate in Northern Ireland


Ireland suffers from a “conspiracy of neglect” when it comes to dealing with white collar crime, the MacGill Summer School heard on Tuesday.

Prof Gary Murphy of Dublin City University said that civic duty demanded that the State put its full resources into ensuring that all citizens were treated equally in the investigation of criminality in all its forms.

“The shrug of the shoulder attitude that the political class have taken towards the whole banker class and those suspected of white collar crime needs to be ditched,” he said during a debate on the urgent need for “real new politics” and strong, effective and focused government.

“It seems to me that whether we want things to change and stay the same or really change will only be decided by a clear-the-air general election within the next number of months,” said Prof Murphy.

“And in that election the political class’s relationship with its Civil Service, with powerful interest groups, and its attitude to all the citizens of this State should be interrogated more rigorously than ever before by we the voters,” he added.

“Irish democracy remains extraordinarily robust but we should not take it for granted. If the centre is to hold it needs to ensure it treats all its citizens equally. The consequence of not doing so is a lessening of moral authority that gives fringe groups the opportunity to peddle superficial wares that will leave the Irish State much weaker. That needs to be resisted.”

Prof Murphy, who is head of DCU’s school of law and government, said a stable coalition would be possible if either Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil won 60 seats in the next election.

Prof Murphy added that the formation of the Criminal Assets Bureau specifically “targeting the John Gilligan crime gang proved enormously successful in taking them down”.

“That same attitude simply does not exist when it comes to white collar crime,” he said. “The result is a conspiracy of neglect when it comes to attitudes to white collar crime.”

Prof Murphy warned that without a more equitable anti-criminal system then “we will be all be guilty of perpetuating the reality of the two Irelands: the mythical one that claims to represent all citizens and the real one that places a certain class on a pedestal from which it seemingly cannot be brought down”.

Civil service culpability

Prof Murphy also said that the Civil Service bore “significant culpability” for the economic crash of 2008. “Within the Civil Service there were very few voices of caution,” he said.

He also deplored the “seemingly never-ending cycle” of referendums in Ireland particularly on social and European issues. He said the political class had “to all intents and purposes” outsourced leadership on a variety of controversial issues to the courts and the people “through the mechanism of the constitutional referendum”.

Historian Prof Mary Daly said it was important not to exaggerate the current challenges or crises because to present “a dystopian picture” of the State could actually threaten State institutions.

“Such exaggeration in itself can threaten the institutions of the State and foster the rise of demagogues. The answers to current difficulties may not lie in finding one powerful leader, or dramatic changes in the legislature or public services, but in more low-key, organic change,” she said.

Prof Daly, former president of the Royal Irish Academy, said that “some kind of vision is needed – a message that articulates hope rather than fear, but without raising undue expectations”.

Northern stalemate

Dáithí Ó Ceallaigh, former ambassador to London, said he feared for the future in relation to the political stalemate in Northern Ireland. “The two communities are much further apart than they have been for many years,” he said.

He lamented the absence of leadership from the likes of Ian Paisley, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, the “sort of people who would reach out to other community” over the past 10 years.

Mr Ó Ceallaigh predicted a hard Brexit while adding: “We can face it, we can deal with it, we have faced worse before.”

‘Irish Times’ political editor Pat Leahy said there was “overwhelming evidence that Ireland, although a successful country in terms of standards of living and national wealth and social progress and life expectancy, has a good governance deficit”.

“It appears increasingly hard for major structural issues – like health and housing – to be overcome,” he said. “We can’t plan for anything beyond the political and electoral cycle. The politicians of our governing centre crumble before [European Commission president Jean-Claude] Juncker’s dictum: we all know what has to be done, we just don’t know how to get re-elected afterwards.”