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Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2020 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1003 No. 7

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Catherine Connolly: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly] We are putting through legislation to deal with corruption related to the use or misuse of funds in regard to VAT returns for Europe, all the while ignoring the review which has been available since last November. I appreciate that there is a pandemic. The review report outlines many weaknesses dating back years in regard to gaps and what should be done in Ireland. On the positive side, it states that the principal agencies charged with the investigation and prosecution of crime function well given the limitations imposed by their resources which in some cases, in particular in the case of the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau, are inadequate to meet existing demands as well as increasing demands which will arise in the future and that we need a more structured and co-ordinated approach. It goes on to say that there has been a continuing failure to legislate for the area of pretrial criminal procedures as recommended by the Fennelly commission report of 2003.

The review report sets out the recommendations, including legislative, structural and resourcing measures needed to enhance agency and multi-agency prevention and enforcement capabilities in the sphere of economic crime. The Minister of State will be aware of the following point, but while I have time I am going to use it. To put it in context, Ireland, a relatively small country with a population approaching 5 million, is the fifth largest provider of wholesale financial services in the EU, with more than 400 international financial institutions located here. According to EUROSTAT figures, Ireland has the fifth largest proportion of workers in the financial services and insurance activity sectors at approximately 95,000, and so on. What is the point being made? The vulnerability of the financial services sector to economic crime and corruption cannot be over-emphasised. I am referring to the foreword of the review report before it gets into the gaps and the recommendations. This report was complete at the time the pandemic struck Ireland. It goes on to speak about the increase in online activities. It needs hardly to be emphasised that all of this increases the opportunities for cyber criminals and the risk of computer crime and so on.

Promises were made to deal with white-collar crime in Ireland but nothing much has happened in relation to it. I am saying that. The purpose of the review is to examine specifically anti-fraud and anti-corruption structures and procedures in the criminal law enforcement. It goes on to make 25 recommendations. It highlights the inadequacies in many areas, including in regard to Standards in Public Office, SIPO, which has a bearing on all of our lives. The review group recommends that the independence and the capacity of SIPO be enhanced by ensuring that resources allocated to the ombudsman under Vote 19 are ring-fenced. The rationale behind this recommendation is that improving resourcing to SIPO will enable it to fulfil its mandate. The review goes on to speak about the gap whereby former Members cannot be investigated, the need for Irish competition to be amended to create a specific offence of bid rigging and the lacuna in the Ethics in Public Office Act 1995. Currently, there are no provisions for examining possible contraventions of the ethics Act by ex-Members of the Oireachtas who are not officeholders.

I do not know if the Minister of State has read the review report. I do not expect Ministers and Ministers of State to have read everything. I am working my way through the review report. No more than the mother and baby home report of 3,000 pages, it is a work in progress. It is ironic that we are here putting through this legislation while, as I said earlier, we have this report. I have three minutes remaining which I am prepared to give to the Minister of State if there is not provision for him to come back in later in order that he can tell me if the Department has looked at the review and what is being done in relation to the recommendations that are so urgent, some of which have been around for a long time. I have mentioned the legislation of 2003 and SIPO. In between, there is a variety of recommendations that could be implemented very quickly if we were seriously interested in tackling corruption and fraud in Ireland and in Europe but very often we resort to the lowest hanging fruit as in the case of social welfare.

Deputy Thomas Gould: Information on Thomas Gould Zoom on Thomas Gould I welcome this Bill. I disagree with white-collar crime but I do not believe this legislation will make any difference. Ten years ago, the Government bailed out the banks at a cost of €64 billion. According to the Comptroller and Auditor General, this continues to cost us €3 million per week. To put this in context, the pandemic unemployment payment, which the Government has continuously tried to cut on the basis that we cannot afford it, has cost us €5 billion. I believe that if there was another banking crisis tomorrow and we had available to us the evidence we had in regard to what happened in the first crisis those involved would again get off scot-free and nobody would be prosecuted. In January, a mother in Cork who was caught shoplifting was sentenced to four months in prison while others such as bankers, developers and speculators scammed this State out of a fortune and robbed the future of many of us, our children and future generations and got away scot-free. It is beyond belief.

Nothing has changed. Since this Government came to power it has been plagued by scandal after scandal. Developers and big business are still top priority for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. There is not a Deputy in this Chamber who does not know what happened when the banks had the ear of Government. Every day, I speak to people who have been harmed. Yet again, it appears developers have the ear of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien. He is proceeding with a shared equity scheme despite his departmental officials telling him that the only people who will benefit from it are developers. Has this Government learned nothing down through the years?

We are one year on from a momentous election in which people came out in their droves to vote for change. They wanted change and they voted for it. They voted for an end to parties that the rich and powerful can influence. They voted to end the bank bail-outs and developer hand-outs. What we have seen in the last 12 months, shows Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will never change. There needs to be real opposition to hold them to account. The money wasted and exposed almost weekly is a scandal. This is not change. It is more of the same. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have never held each other to account. Sinn Féin will not let them away with that. We will hold the Government parties to account.

I share the frustrations of Deputy Connolly in regard to the allocation of speaking time. Earlier today I wanted to raise a serious issue with the Taoiseach. On five occasions I have asked the Taoiseach in this House about the closure of SouthDoc in Blackpool in Cork. This evening, we are discussing fraud and crime. SouthDoc is paid €7.3 million per annum to provide an out-of-hours GP service for the people of Cork North Central and Kerry. It has not provided that service since last March. I have asked the Taoiseach, the Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly, the Department of Health, the HSE and SouthDoc why when we are paying €7.3 million for a service the people of Cork North Central are not getting that service.

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