Sorry Anglo saga begs questions of corporate watchdog’s role

Analysis: Squabbles about resources fail to sway critical Fine Gael leadership contenders

Politicians in Opposition are always vociferous in their demands for more resources for agencies that clamp down on corporate “baddies”. Photograph: Getty Images

Politicians in Opposition are always vociferous in their demands for more resources for agencies that clamp down on corporate “baddies”. Photograph: Getty Images

 

The first director of corporate enforcement, Paul Appleby, appeared to annoy the then taoiseach Bertie Ahern when he complained in the mid-2000s his office was “wholly under-resourced”.

Mr Appleby had asked for 20 additional staff. A few years later he got eight more people, but not before Mr Ahern snapped: “He will have to wait his turn.”

Mr Ahern told the Dáil when the matter of resources was raised: “It is not that Mr Appleby’s work is not considered important . . . He has 36, so it seems extraordinary that he could want another 20.”

The embryonic Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) was established at the end of November 2001 by then tánaiste Mary Harney.

At the time of the its establishment, Ms Harney said the move sent a clear message of change in the political attitude towards wrongdoing.

“That message is that the Government no longer tolerates those who are guilty of corporate crime and malpractice in Ireland, ” she said.

The office was given a budget of more than €3 million.

It appears to have been constantly frustrated for many years in its attempts to secure additional resources.

Politicians in Opposition are always vociferous in their demands for more resources for bodies that clamp down on corporate “baddies”.

Once in power, those demands often dissolve into platitudes about requests for resources being dealt with by officials or pleas that other priorities must take precedence.

In 2009 current Fine Gael leadership contender Leo Varadkar, was at the forefront of badgering the Fianna Fáil-led government about the corporate watchdog.

“The Government’s decision to starve the ODCE of essential resources proves further that Fianna Fáil is too close to many vested interests in its Galway tent,” said Mr Varadkar.

Budget allocation

By the time the then Fine Gael enterprise spokesman made his 2009 intervention, the office’s budget had risen to close to €5.5 million and it had 46 employees.

The then government’s response was to insist that the corporate watchdog would have whatever resources it needed to investigate matters to do with Anglo Irish Bank.

Mr Varadkar was then shadowing Fianna Fáil’s Mary Coughlan. When he began asking questions about the office in 2007, the ministerial post was held by Micheál Martin, now leader of Fianna Fáil.

Asked on Wednesday about the collapse of the trial of former Anglo chairman Seán FitzPatrick, Mr Varadkar expressed concern about the handling of the investigation and called for an examination of the workings of the ODCE.

His opponent in the race to succeed Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Simon Coveney, was more forthright, saying it was clear the office had made a “mess” of the case.

When the Fine Gael-led government assumed power in 2011, Fianna Fáil’s Éamon Ó Cuív demonstrated the “swings-and-roundabouts” of Irish politics when reflecting on a radio interview with then minister for justice Alan Shatter.

“He was asked the obvious question, one which we asked many times of our colleagues when we were in government, as to whether the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement and the Garda Síochána fraud squad had sufficient resources to do the job,” said Mr O Cuív.

“The Minister gave the same answer that we had given many times, which is that they do have the resources. And they have been told that if they believe they do not have the resources and that the logjam is due to a lack of resources, those resources will be made available.”

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