Law enforcement – Irish style

The Data Protection Commissioner has written to political parties to caution them about communicating with individuals using text, email or phone in the forthcoming election.

The Commissioner said that his office had received numerous complaints during previous election campaigns.

He said subsequent investigations revealed that contact details were obtained from sources such as sports clubs, friends, colleagues and schools.

Obtaining personal data in such circumstances constitutes a breach of the Data Protection Acts.

I rang the Data Protection Commissioner to find out how many politicians or political parties had been prosecuted as a result of these investigations.

Before ringing I made a mad guess that the answer would be zero and indeed that mad guess turned out to be, well, not so mad.

Here’s some of what I was told by a spokesperson.

If a company sends an email or text to a citizen without permission they can be immediately prosecuted, the law is crystal clear on the matter.

However, there is a special exemption written into the law for politicians and political parties.

In other words these people and organisations have full rights to bombard citizens with any amount of unsolicited material at any time of day or night.

Now we have to stop here and consider this special exemption.

Who made this decision? Was it a politician, a civil servant – or both? Why should politicians enjoy this special exemption?

Is it just another of those occasions where the law and state institutions are utilised (abused?) to provide politicians with an advantage at the expense of citizens?

But there’s good news.

Apparently politicians/political parties can be fined up to €3,000 (about five days expenses for the average TD?) if they illegally obtain contact details of citizens through such sources as sports clubs, friends, colleagues and schools.

In his warning the Commissioner revealed that he had indeed received and investigated numerous such complaints after recent elections so I put the obvious question to the Commissioner’s spokesperson.

Has your office ever taken action against a politician or political party for breaching the Data Protection Act?

No, it hasn’t arisen. You see our first action is never to serve an enforcement order in any of the complaints we deal with.

(Translation: Our first action is never to enforce the law?).

You’re confirming that you’ve never served an enforcement order against a politician or political party.

We investigated complaints in the local government and general elections but it hasn’t been necessary to actually serve an enforcement order because in each case, when we found out, they agreed to delete the details.

This is similar to the strategy adopted by the Financial Regulator when banks were found to be robbing their customers – just pay back the money and promise to be good in future.

This method of dealing with alleged law breakers is one of the principal reasons why our country is now facing total ruination.

The (Tammany Hall) system can be outlined as follows.

An activity is taking place that is damaging to the general public.

Laws are introduced and an organisation is set up to enforce those laws to protect the general public and the good of society.

If it is found that the laws are ‘inconvenient’ for some vested interests (politicians, bankers, property developers, solicitors etc.) a number of options can be considered.

Write an exemption into the law. This is usually buried deep within the legislation.

Ensure that the enforcement agency is provided with only minimum powers and is so understaffed and under funded that it will be impossible to carry out its remit.

The ODCE, presently investigating Anglo Irish Bank, is a good example of this kind of strategy.

Equip the so called regulator with Soviet style secrecy laws which debars any questions whatsoever. The Financial Regulator is a good example of this strategy.

Allow civil servants wide discretion regarding the implementation of the law. This particular case is a good example of this strategy.

The Data Protection Commissioner could have taken action against politicians/political parties for breach of the Act but chose instead to come to a mutual agreement

Ignore the law altogether. This is a very common strategy in Ireland. Ansbacher and DIRT are just two examples where so called regulatory agencies were aware of serious breaches of the law but failed to take action.

The failure to rigorously enforce laws by a wide range of state agencies over a prolonged number of years has led to the inevitable – political chaos, impoverishment and hardship for ordinary citizens and national shame in front of the world community.

Allow me to end by making another (mad) guess/prediction – not a single politician or political party will receive an enforcement order from the so called Data Protection Commissioner as a result of any breaches of the Act in the forthcoming election.

Copy to:

The Data Protection Commissioner

We don’t have a financial regulator in Ireland but if we did…

Did you hear about that ‘systems failure’ at Bank of Ireland? No, no, not the overdraft ‘error‘ – that was this week’s error.

I’m referring to last week’s ‘error’ involving ATMs.

I know, I know, it’s difficult to keep up with the ‘systems failure industry’ in Irish banking.

Anyway, last week’s episode involved what RTE described as silly people walking away from ATM machines without their card or money.

Here’s the RTE report (My emphasis).

But in 2005, Bank of Ireland was upgrading its anti-fraud technology on its ATMs and somehow neglected to reactivate the ‘automatic re-crediting’ process, so if you did forget your money, the machine took it back but your account wasn’t re-credited.

In October 2009, the problem was fixed, but during those four years there were tens of thousands of people who forgot their money.

Half of those people realised something had gone wrong and got in touch with the bank to reclaim their money.

But 44,000 didn’t: 14,000 of them were Bank of Ireland account holders, another 29,000 were other bank account holders using Bank of Ireland ATMs.

Today €1.3m has been returned by Bank of Ireland to its customers; another €1.7m is being given to other banks to return to their customers who were affected.

A lovely spokesperson from the bank gently explained that people did tend to get distracted by phone calls or their children – silly, silly people.

But never mind Bank of Ireland has come to the rescue.

Customers are to be fully reimbursed, enhanced procedures have been introduced to ensure this ‘silly mistake’ never occurs again, and, every customer is to be issued with a free, gold plated, apology.

We don’t have a financial regulator in Ireland but if we did the following question might have been put to Bank of Ireland.

Why did it take you four whole years to act on this ‘error’ when all during that four years thousands upon thousands of customers were telling you that the automatic re-crediting process was dysfunctional or to put it another way.

Why did you allow this situation to continue for four years when you obviously knew there was a problem that was resulting in significant loss to customers?

We don’t have a financial regulator in Ireland but if we did Bank of Ireland would have been heavily fined and the person/s responsible for the four year ‘error’ would be under serious investigation by police.

We don’t have a financial regulator in Ireland but if we did consumers would not be subject to a well established ‘system failure industry’ that ‘somehow’ always enriches the banks and impoverishes the customer.

Some bored and anonymous official within the joke organisation that masquerades as a financial regulator pushed the by now well worn button marked ‘standard press release drivel’ and out spewed:

The Financial Regulator expects all firms to have appropriate systems and control in place to prevent errors, or rectify them quickly.

Hey, did you hear about the latest bank ‘systems failure’? It involves an ‘error’ in overdrafts….

Copy to:
Bank of Ireland
So called Financial Regulator

The big NAMA question

The critical question surrounding the National Assets Management Authority (NAMA) project is – What price is the Government, on behalf of the taxpayer, going to place on the assets of the various financial institutions?

Here’s how Finance Minister, Brian Lenihan answered the question (Morning Ireland, 1st report, 3rd item).

That is the absolutely fundamental question and we’re working on the valuation of these properties and I will announce on behalf of the Government the approximated, estimated figure for how much state bond will be required in the Dail debate in September…I haven’t finalised the figure yet and of course the announcement of that figure is one of considerable market sensitivity.

Here’s my translation:

I’m not going to answer that question now and if I’m forced to do so in September I will only give an ‘approximated, estimated figure’. I’ll refuse to answer any awkward questions at that time by simply saying that the exact figures are of ‘considerable market sensitivity’.

I agree with the Labour Party’s suggestion that the banks should be temporarily nationalised, a strategy that would cost about €5 billion. That would still leave the taxpayer responsible for billions of bad loans currently held by the banks but at least we would know the risks we are facing and have some degree of control over events.

And that’s exactly what the Government is working to avoid. The Government strategy is actually very simple. It wants to transfer the massive liabilities currently bringing down the financial institutions onto to the shoulders of the taxpayer while at the same time ensuring that those institutions remain, to the greatest extent possible, in private ownership.

Private ownership protects profits and ensures continued state protection, principally by the Financial Regulator, for the widespread criminality that has long infected the Irish financal sector.

The hope is that when the dust settles the banks can return to what they do best – squeezing massive profits out of unprotected consumers. The burden of cleaning up the mess created by the reckless and greedy bankers will be left to generations of future taxpayers.

There is, however, one potentially serious obstacle in the way of this cosy strategy between politicians and their banking masters. Ordinary Irish citizens might not wear it; they might, for the first time in modern history, actually rebel.

An editorial in yesterday’s Sunday Independent on the NAMA question refers to a poll in the same newspaper in which a clear majority were in favour of nationalising the banks. The editorial concluded:

The poll reveals a truly worrying level of cynicism about the beneficiaries of public policy, and that cynicism is poisonous to society.

The Government has a duty to rebuild public faith in the political system and it must start by debating its policy decisions openly and honestly. There cannot be the faintest hint of favouritism or cronyism in a decision that could impoverish a generation and it demands justification on a grand scale.

The Government is gambling the future: the people need to know why, and they need to know who benefits.

Public faith in the political system? Openness and honesty in debating public policy? An end to cronyism?

The present corrupt system of administration in this country will never allow such enlightened policies to emerge; only an actual rebellion will do that.

Irish Financial Regulator – Still protecting the scumbags

Senator Shane Ross was writing about the Financial Regulator’s annual report last Sunday. The Senator continues to be astonished and staggered by the activities of our so called regulators.

Here are some of the things that staggered and astonished the Senator.

The chairman of the Financial Regulator, Jim Farrell, is a banker. Farrell was the boss of Citibank for many years. The publication of such details are the norm in accountable democracies but apparently rare in Ireland.

Such incestuous behaviour is not, however, unusual in Ireland. The bankers are on the regulators staff and it is quite common for regulators to end up as bankers after retirement. All part of the ‘old boy’s network’, old chap.

The Senator goes on to speak about the culture of secrecy at the Financial Regulator’s Press Office.

Their instincts for secrecy are ingrained. The watchdog’s press office must be a paranoiac’s paradise. Every question asked, however innocent, receives an evasive answer.

Tell me about it Senator. My efforts to get a straight answer from the Senior Press Officer last week was like trying to get blood from a stone.

And then there’s the ‘business travel’. Last year it came to €795,000 and this year will see a massive 22% increase to over €970,000. But, alas, as the Senator points out, taxpayer’s (peasants) are forbidden from knowing the details because the FR is protected by State secrecy laws.

In common with the rest of the media Senator Ross didn’t seem to notice that Farrell had, apparently, announced a major new policy to replace the principled based approach to financial regulation.

I rang the Department of Finance today to ask some questions about this alleged new policy and what happened, yes you’ve guessed. I received the same treatment that I received from the FR Press Office – waffle, stonewalling and riddles.

So just let me repeat – Neither the financial regulatory system nor the attitude of its staff has changed one iota. It is still the same secretive, arrogant system that has for many years protected the scumbags that infest the Irish financial sector.

Copy to:
Financial Regulator
Senator Shane Ross

National Consumer Agency – No power but great bonuses

Recently I had cause to ask some questions regarding property management companies on behalf of someone who is being ripped off by one of these mafia outfits.

I first checked out the website of the National Consumer Agency and came across the following on a question and answer pamphlet.

Are property management companies regulated?

No, property management companies are not regulated. However, the Government plans to introduce a law to set up a national property services regulatory authority in late 2007

(Yes, that’s 2007).

I next rang the NCA to make further enquiries and spoke to an obviously embarrassed spokesperson.

“Does the NCA have power to act against the mafia management companies?”


“Has the Government introduced that legislation yet?”

“No, it’s still under consideration.”

“What government agency can a citizen approach to get action on these people?”

“The nearest you would get to a regulatory body would be the Private Residential Tenancies Board.”

“Do they have power over management companies?”

“I don’t think they do.” (So, he may just as well have recommended the Boy Scouts or The Legion of Mary).

“So, in effect, there’s no authority in the land with power to act against mafia management companies.”


“What advice do you have for the many thousands of citizens being ripped off by these people?”

“Well, they could contact the Free Legal Aid Centre to check the legal situation.”

With immense self control I managed to politely thank the spokesperson and hung up.

But hey, it’s not all bad news. The head of NCA, Ann Fitzgerald, has just been paid a performance related bonus of €24,300 on top of her grotesque salary €186,891.

I say grotesque because, clearly, Ms. Fitzgerald has little interest in the welfare of those she is charged to protect.

For example, her organisation has a policy of not prosecuting car dealers found to be clocking cars. Despite the fact that this practice puts the lives of consumers at risk the NCA is of the opinion that such prosecutions would be too protracted.

(Cynical consumers could be forgiven for thinking that such prosecutions are avoided in order to keep the ‘performance related bonuses’ kitty in a healthy state).

Instead, criminal car dealers are politely asked to sign a formal undertaking not to clock cars again.

I can just see it now, ruthless car dealers all over the country throwing darts at their formal undertaking as they continue, with impunity, to put the lives of consumers at risk.

Copy to:

Is the FSAI doing deals?

Joe Duffy and Liveline (Wed) have taken on the responsibility of protecting the public from danger because the so called Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) is adamantly refusing to do so.

The FSAI is refusing to name a company which was found to have had high levels of contamination in its bottled water nearly a year ago.

Innocent water bottle companies such as Tipperary Water, Uisce, Ballygown and several others are phoning the show to reassure the public of the quality of their product and to protect their business from further damage.

According to Joe Duffy, the FSAI is still refusing to name the guilty party and say they will never reveal the name of any company that they have reprimanded – because it wouldn’t be fair.

There was a new and crucial piece of informaton revealed on the show yesterday.

Four months ago the FSAI did name a company, Pure Springs of Monaghan; that had problems with the quality of their product.

This raises very serious questions. Why the selective naming – Are deals being done?

Previous post.

Copy to:

Consumers put in danger yet again

Yet another so called authority charged with protecting the interests of consumers has been found out.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) discovered high levels of contamination in bottled water nearly a year ago but decided not to tell the public. Whatever the motives of the FSAI, the actual effect was to put consumers in danger while protecting the manufacturer.

This is a similar strategy to that employed by the so called Financial Regulator. Through a combination of stonewalling and secrecy laws, financial institutions are protected at the expense of the consumer.

It should also be noted that, once again, consumers only found out about this scandal through the media which, effectively, provides the only means of information and protection to Irish citizens.

Copy to:

Royal taxi regulator

It seems that a majority of taxi drivers are against the recent increase in fares imposed by the Taxi Regulator, Kathleen Doyle.

The matter was hotly discussed on Liveline during the week but despite numerous contacts from RTE the regulator refused to discuss the matter on air.

Ms. Doyle’s press office is as far as RTE got before being contemptuously pawned off to a public relations company. This is the modern day equivalent of asking the peasants to use the workman’s entrance.

Ms. Doyle is a public servant and therefore, in theory, should be accountable to consumers. There has been a disturbing tendency in recent times for people like Ms. Doyle to adopt a certain royal distance from the great unwashed.

When public servants adopt such arrogant attitudes consumers are entitled to form their own conclusions. Here’s how I imagine Ms. Doyle would address the general peasantry if she ever deigned to dismount from her high horse.

Dear Peasants,

I have been elevated to a position of great importance and therefore feel it is entirely inappropriate that I should deal directly with ordinary people.

I have therefore, at great expense to you, employed a public relations company to deal with all awkward questions from an impertinent media. All questions of a suitably respectful and non awkward nature will be dealt with by my underlings – eventually.

Of course, I do acknowledge and indeed, on rare occasions, feel a degree of gratitude, that my high status, large pay packet, very generous expenses and myriad other perks are all paid for out of your meagre resources.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish all of you the very best of luck in your struggles during the coming economic depression.

I would ask you not to worry too much about my prospects as I am guaranteed regular pay rises, total job security and a very generous pension on completion of my reign.

Yours etc.

(Note to private secretary: Make sure that fellow Duffy gets a copy, it might keep him quiet)

Copy to:
Taxi Regulator