Even if Fitzpatrick deigned to appear before the Economic and Regulatory Affairs Committee it would make no difference whatsoever, the committee has no power. It was set up after the 1997 general election for the same reason that all Dail committees are set up – jobs for the boys.
None of the 30 or so Dail committees have any power. They are nothing more than cash machines granted to politicians to keep them on side with their parties. They also serve the useful purpose (at least until the present global crisis) of giving the impression that the State is serious about bringing white collar criminals to account.
Politicians are most proud of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC); they waffle on endlessly about the great work done in bringing banks to account over the DIRT scandal. It is, of course, just that – waffle.
The banks only paid back a fraction of the countless millions they robbed from the State in that particular mafia scam and, in keeping with that great Irish tradition, not a single bank or official was investigated by the police never mind actually charged with a crime.
Here are some other so called regulatory agencies that, in theory, are charged with protecting the State and its citizens.
Financial Regulator: This organisation has never taken any serious or effective action against the widespread criminality within the Irish financial sector. The Financial Regulator by its actions and particularly by its inactions, in effect, acts to as a protector of wrongdoers. The Financial Regulator is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act and operates under strict secrecy laws.
Tribunals: Tribunals are useful in uncovering the vast amount of sleaze and corruption that infects Irish public and business life but they have no power whatsoever to prosecute, this is not an accident.
For example, politicians, quite deliberately, introduced a law that prevents any evidence given to a tribunal from being used by the police in any subsequent criminal investigation.
If such an investigation were to take place, (highly improbable) the police would have to start off from scratch ignoring the vast amount of evidence gathered, under oath, by the tribunal. This law didn’t just fall out of the sky.
Comptroller and Auditor General: The C & AG reports once a year invariably highlighting very serious incompetence, waste and often corruption within government departments. He has no power whatsoever to take matters any further, his only ‘power’ is to make recommendations.
Irish citizens are then subjected to the farce of seeing powerless Dail committee members rant and rave about the action they’re going to take to put a stop to all this incompetence, waste and corruption before collecting their expenses and settling down until the next C & AGs report where the whole farce is repeated.
In common with Dail committees and tribunals the C & AG is also useful for giving the impression that the State is actually serious about dealing with the disease of corruption.
From time to time, usually when media pressure is making politicians sweat over some scandal, the C & AG is called in to conduct a ‘special’ investigation. Again, the C & AG has no power to act on his findings; he just publishes his report and makes recommendations.
Despite uncovering irrefutable evidence of very serious corruption the C & AG concluded:
“In my annual audits of Bord na gCon I have satisfied myself that the broad framework of financial administration and internal control was appropriate.”
“In general the funds of Bord na gCon were properly applied.”
These conclusions came as a great relief to the board of Bord na gCon and, I’m sure, to politicians who could now claim that all was well and no action was required. Incidently, nobody thought it the least bit odd that the C & AG is also the auditor for Bord na gCon.
Office of Corporate Enforcement: In reality, the ODCE is a toothless tiger with a fancy title and, in the main, deals with minor wrong doing by company directors.
The office is seriously understaffed, under funded and possess only weak law enforcement powers. Apart from fines, the most common punishment meted out is a ban on practicing as a company director for a number of years.
But like tribunals, Dail committees and the C & AG office, the ODCE acts as a very useful mechanism whereby allegations against very powerful people can be channeled away from public attention and, more importantly, away from the (remote) possibility of criminal proceedings.
For example, the ODCE, ‘processed’ the people responsible for the very serious fraud at National Irish Bank. These people received nothing more than a slap on the wrist.
Two of the biggest tax cheats in the history of the State, the Bailey brothers, are also being ‘processed’ by the ODCE. The very best we can hope for is that these two gentlemen will be banned from acting as company directors for a couple of years. In other words, another slap on the wrist.
The ODCE has also taken the infamous Jim Flavin of DCC under its gentle wing. The highest court in the land, in a civil case, found that Flavin had committed fraud on the stock exchange to the tune of €83 million. But (lucky) Jim will be treated kindly by the ODCE with perhaps, yes, a gentle slap on the wrist before being sent on his happy and very rich way.
And let’s remember, it is the ODCE that will be ‘processing’ the Anglo Irish/Irish Life and Permanent fraud. Politicians are falling over themselves to assure the Irish people that this is the organisation that will bring these people to account.
Let me say right now, unless there is an actual revolution in the way white collar crime is dealt with in Ireland these people, Sean Fitzpatrick and all the rest will never, ever be brought to account.
The structure and operation of all so called regulatory agencies in Ireland are, effectively, designed to avoid bringing the corrupt to account. Whether it’s by strict secrecy laws, a lack of power, a lack of resources or a deliberate policy of protecting the rich and powerful the consequences are always the same for Ireland and its people – disastrous.
There is, however, some hope. The political, business and bureaucratic reaction to the Anglo Irish Bank/Irish Life and Permanent scandal is nothing more than a desperate scramble to prevent the international community from finding out just how rotten the Irish system really is.
They are unlikely to succeed as the global crisis continues to expose Ireland as the most corrupt country in the Western world.
In the long run that can only be a good thing for Ireland and its people.
All relevant Dail committees
Government Press Secetary
C & AG