Irish Financial Regulator – Bizarre and toothless

Utterly bizarre is the only appropriate description for the title of the Irish Financial Regulator’s 2006 annual report. The report, published last week, is entitled

‘Protecting Consumers Through Effective Regulation’.

Clearly, someone within this secretive organisation has an ironic sense of humour because protecting consumers is not, and never has been a priority for this so called regulator. Indeed, it seems to have only one policy and that is to protect at all costs the interests of the rampantly corrupt Irish financial sector. As most Irish consumers know to their great cost there is any number of financial institutions out there who would put the mafia to shame in their ability to rob customers.

Yet, since its establishment in May 2003, this toothless tiger has failed to take action against even one of these dodgy organizations. According to the regulator’s consumer director, Mary O’Dea ‘Ifsra wants to work with the industry to prevent further errors’. In fact, it is reasonable to assert that the so called financial regulator actually protects and encourages ‘wrongdoing’ within the financial sector. It does this in three principal ways.

1. Language: The regulator never uses words like ‘theft’ ‘crime’ or ‘corruption’. It only uses words/phrases like -‘Procedural errors’, ‘acted wrongly’, ‘improper charging’, ‘overcharged’, ‘breakdown in procedures’, ‘billing mistakes’.

Words and how they are delivered are important in understanding what a person/organisation means and can send a powerful message to the listener/reader. The message from the Irish financial regulator is –

These are not really crimes so we don’t need to take any real action.

The message the corrupt institutions take from this is –

No crime, no punishment – great, let’s get working on the next scam.

The message for the consumer is –

No regulation, no justice, no hope.

2. Refusal to use its powers of sanction: The regulator can impose fines of up to €5million on a company and €500,000 on an individual for ‘improper behaviour’. It has never done so; neither have any of its predecessors. In fact, no punishment has ever been meted out to errant institutions by any so called Irish financial regulator since the foundation of the state in 1922. The message here needs no further analysis.

3. Secrecy: This is the most powerful weapon the Irish regulator posses for its defence of corruption in the financial sector. It is the official policy of the Irish regulator to keep secret the names of all firms found guilty of ‘overcharging’ their customers. This policy protects the guilty and obviously puts consumers at a serious disadvantage.

Let’s just examine this year’s corrupt activities. According to the regulators annual report 36 different institutions ‘overcharged’ customers by over €50 million between May 2005 and May 2006 – Yes, that’s right, €50 million and this is referred to as ‘Procedural errors’.

From past experience it is reasonable to assume that much of this €50 million was stolen rather than accidentally ‘overcharged’. Irish citizens, however, will never know what companies are plundering their accounts because the regulator has decided that their identities will remain a State secret.

Neither will any of these institutions face the inconvenience of a police investigation as they effectively operate outside the law of the land. The regulator is the only ‘authority’ that can impose any restraint on their corrupt activities and to date he has refused to do so.

Astonishing accountability

Irish citizens must be looking on in astonishment at events in the UK.

They must be astonished to witness a police force taking immediate action on receiving allegations of political corruption.

They must be astonished that there are actually police officers with the courage and confidence to investigate powerful politicians.

They must be astonished to see one of the most powerful men in the UK, Lord Levy, arrested by the police.

They must be astonished that it was a politician that actually made the initial complaint to the police.

They must be astonished that action is actually taken without first having a fifteen year tribunal that costs millions and achieves nothing.

They must be astonished at the possibility of a serving Prime Minister being questioned by the police

They must be astonished that politicians of the party in power are severely critical of their own party and leader.

Some astonished Irish citizens might even begin to suspect that what is happening in the UK is not unusual in an accountable democracy.

Italy acts, Ireland deludes

I see the Italians are to put former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on trial for alleged fraud. He faces charges of embezzlement, false accounting, tax fraud and money laundering. These alleged crimes are not much different from the activities of former Irish Prime Minister, Charles Haughey.

While Berlusconi was in power, he introduced a law that gave him protection from such charges but only months after losing that power, the Italian system has moved to make him accountable.

Haughey, on the other hand was never brought to justice for his crimes and indeed was permitted to live out his final years in luxury, enjoying the fruits of his corruption. This criminal was even given a state funeral during which the present Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern described him (Haughey) as

“a patriot to his fingertips”.

The difference between the two countries is simple. Italy, seen by many as the most corrupt state in Europe, has faced up to the fact that corruption is a massively corrosive disease that eats away at the very fabric of a decent society. In recent years, the Italian authorities have taken strong and courageous action to combat the disease, especially against the mafia.

Unfortunately, the Irish system is still labouring under the delusion that Ireland is a first world, democratically accountable country when in fact it is nothing more than a ‘well to do’ Banana Republic where corrupt former prime ministers are honoured with State funerals.

A tale of two countries – one accountable, one corrupt

On the 3rd of July last RTE News reported (10th item)on a major police investigation in the United Kingdom into alleged fraud in the horse racing industry. The investigation was conducted over two years and involved 130 police officers. Dozens of people have been charged with serious crimes including defrauding customers and money laundering.

Those charged are out on bail awaiting their day in court where they will successfully prove themselves innocent of the charges or be found guilty and receive the punishment that society rightly demands. Key terms to keep in mind here are; Police, charges, crimes, fraud, court, guilt and punishment.

On the 5th of July last RTE News reported (1st item) on a similar case of dodgy dealing in the Irish Greyhound industry. The case involves serious allegations of fraud and cover up in the industry. The police are not involved. The courts are not involved. Nobody has been charged, nobody will be charged.

Keeping in mind the key terms quoted in the UK case above the following is a brief outline of how these serious allegations of fraud were dealt with in the corrupt Republic of Ireland.

A retired civil servant was appointed to carry out a secret investigation. (Question: What other democracy appoints retired civil servants to investigate allegations of serious fraud?) His terms of reference were extremely narrow so his chances of finding anything substantial were very slight.

After a long delay the report was finally published, just before the politicians are due to head off on their very long summer holidays.

The report was examined by politicians sitting on the Public Accounts Committee. There was a lot of hand wringing, a lot of talking but no action. The committee is only allowed to talk; they have no power of action.

The politician ‘responsible’ for the greyhound industry, Sports Minister, John O’Donoghue has promised legislation to tighten up procedures – ‘sometime in the near future’. (This translates as – never)

The Comptroller and Auditor General has said he will carry out further investigations into the greyhound industry. The Auditor General is as powerless as retired civil servants, as powerless as political committees, as powerless as ministers who don’t want to rock the boat, as powerless as governments operating within a corrupt system so his investigation will simply result in yet another report.

When that report is published the whole sequence starts over again. Talking, wringing of hands, empty promises but no action, no police, no charges, no courts, no trials, no punishment, no accountability.

Just the continuing massive damage to a country and its people by the putrid and rampant disease of corruption.

Waiting for action

The Standards in Public Office Commission has just published its annual report for 2005. Cases involving three politicians are dealt with. The first two relate to former Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Mr. Ivor Callely and Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Mr. Tom Parlon. These cases involve the usual petty and pathetic shenanigans of Irish politicians and can be dismissed as such.

The third case serves as an excellent example of how things are done in a corrupt state in comparison to the reaction of enforcement authorities in accountable democracies.

The following is a very brief outline of the case – In 2002 the now independent, Fianna Fail TD, Michael Collins is alleged to have made a false statement to the Commission regarding his tax situation. He provided a tax clearance certificate and a statutory declaration to the Commission stating that he was compliant with the various tax acts. In 2003, it was revealed that he was the holder of a bogus non resident account. The law is crystal clear on this matter –

Where a conviction relates to knowingly furnishing statutory documentation to the Standards Commission which is false or misleading in any material respect, a member of the Houses of the Oireachtas or a representative in the European Parliament will be liable, on conviction on indictment, to a fine of up to €25,394.76 and / or up to three years in prison.

In a real democracy, the likes of Collins would have been dealt with years ago. In a corrupt state things are handled differently. Firstly, the Commission suddenly realised that it lacked power to take effective action so it brought the matter to the attention of other organs of the state where it was eventually referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Gardai.

That was in 2004, and nothing has happened since. So, the alleged crime took place in 2002 and here we are four years on and the whole case is encased in the secrecy and never ending deliberations of the Gardai and DPP.

Not even for a place in Heaven

Sometimes, amid all the corruption and incompetence that dominates this Banana Republic; we are treated to a comment/opinion that raises the spirit. Such a gem occurred on ‘It Says in the Papers’ on RTE this morning.

Longford judge, John Neilan, explaining his reasons for refusing to attend the opening of a courthouse with Justice Minister Michael McDowell said.

“I wouldn’t share a platform with him if he was opening the gates of Heaven for me”

Makes me proud to be a Longford man.

Haughey's private navy

Sometime in the late 1980s, a sailor in the Irish Naval Service listened in astonishment to a news report in which the Dept of Defence officially denied that Irish naval ships were sent to ‘guard’ Charlie Haughey while he entertained on his private Island, Inishvickillane.

The Irish Navy carries out two and three week patrols around the Irish coast. Before departing on patrol, a ship will be given a Sailing Order outlining areas to be patrolled and specific missions to be achieved.

This is a broad instruction and is open to change depending on changing circumstances. These circumstances could include proceeding to a vessel in distress, reports of illegal fishing or even investigating illegal arms or drug smuggling. These missions were all part of life for a serviceman at sea and were accepted as part of the job. However, there was one mission that always caused deep resentment within the ranks of naval servicemen – being used by Haughey as a private resource for services and entertainment.

Having a State vessel at his private disposal was, no doubt, a great boost to Haughey’s ego. Friends and guests would be brought on board for a tour and entertained with food and drink at the States expense. Other services were also provided. For example, naval divers would install and maintain moorings at the island.

These ‘secret missions’ to entertain Haughey invariably occurred on long holiday weekends. They never formed part of the sailing order. A radio signal from Naval HQ, usually received a day or two before a patrol was due to end, would instruct the vessel to proceed to Inishvickillane.

Last minute instructions like these were necessary for secrecy and to prevent servicemen, who should have been relaxing at home with their families after a grueling three weeks patrol in the Atlantic, from venting their anger.

Obviously, at this time in the late 80s a serviceman or family member had had enough and complained to a media source – hence the official denial from the Dept of Defence Press Office.

How do I know all this in such detail? I was that sailor listening in astonishment to the official denial.

Haughey's last failure

At Haughey’s funeral today, Sean Haughey quoted his mother

“Everybody hates Charlie Haughey except the people.”

Well, today the people begged to differ with this opinion. Despite a massive propaganda campaign by the State and Haugheys friends, enthusiastically supported by RTE, the people of Ireland stayed away in their droves.

It was a clear statement that the majority of Irish citizens see Haughey for what he really is – a corrupt politician that abused power to enrich himself, family and friends.

A mere 500 people gathered outside the church with a further 2,000 inside. A nearby hall, set aside for the expected massive crowds, remained virtually empty. On the road to the graveyard only a scattering of curious onlookers bothered to turn up, Hardly a Princess Diana type outpouring of grief.

We are told that Haughey planned every detail of his funeral. He probably laboured under the delusion that he was loved by the great bulk of the Irish people and that they would turn out in great numbers to see him off.

That the people were awake to this final stroke by this ruthless and greedy politician is a small indication that perhaps, at last, they are beginning to realise how the cancer of corruption can damage their country and personal lives.

Meanwhile, the national broadcaster, which is supposed to uphold the principle of balanced broadcasting, is beginning to realise that it has been used as a propaganda tool by the State.

On his radio show this morning, Ryan Tubridy reported that all media outlets had been experiencing a public backlash to the State funeral for Haughey. He admitted that RTE was taken aback by the wall-to-wall negative comments received from the public against Haughey.

Certainly, RTE has questions to answer for its almost totally pro Haughey coverage.

Saint or Satan

Got the following text from a friend today.

“All mass cards for Charles Haughey are to be sent in brown envelopes”

It was a very welcome relief from the saturation coverage that portrays Haughey as a serious contender for sainthood.

Personally, I’m not superstitious but today’s date – 16/06/06 should provide some food for thought for all the Satanists out there.