There was a debate in the Dail on the funding for the Gardai and the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement in relation to the ongoing matter of the cases being investigated on potential financial malpractise. My contribution is below.
I congratulate Deputies Shatter and Noonan in bringing this motion before the House. It gets to the core of what it is that is required for this country.
In relation to this motion the tangled web of Government, Banking, Regulation and the work of the Central Bank in my opinion gives some truth to the opinion that the perceived gravity of an offence in Ireland often depends on the pedigree of citizen involved. From the highest office we do not take white-collar crime seriously.
No matter what spin you put on it, the debacle we as a country now experience can be traced back to the notice Harry Truman kept on his desk “The Buck Stops Here”.
It is only when the protagonists accept this principle that you can have any hope of recovery. “The collapse of Lehman’s”, “A Small Open Economy”, “Sluggish Worldwide Recovery” have formed the canon of excuses presented. Each one trying to deflect blame in every sense.
As each of these excuses were trotted out over the last two years they have underscored the pervasive culture of managerial irresponsibility and lack of accountability.
There has been a sense that white collar crime is not real crime with no real consequence. I am sure there are many deputies in this house that are familiar, perhaps personally, with some of the selling practises associated with houses. The classic being “only one remaining”.
I watched a rerun of the Ghost Estates programme on RTE last night produced one year ago. It was at that time anticipated there were approx. 600 unfinished estates. We now know as of last week that the figure is 2800. In preparing for this Debate I was struck by the two men from Co. Cork on this programme who showed the advertising they were presented with when they were deciding whether or not to purchase.
“Only One Remaining, €275,000” the literature stated. Today they live on an estate that appears to be vacant apart from themselves, inadequate services, unfinished houses. As far as I am concerned those two men might as well have been mugged on the street. Yet in Ireland we would probably regard the selling agent as an upstanding member of society. These men and people like them all over the country have been victims of white collar crime. Our attitude towards this type of crime has to change. That can only happen from the very top.
I am sure Government speakers will state that those fighting white-collar crime are not handicapped by scarcity of resources even in this climate. This is not the fundamental point. The civic, ethical and political will is not at all apparent. The Government have spent two years dazzled in the headlights of a recession largely of their own making. Many perpetrators of white-collar crime still retain their positions of influence.
“Unfortunately, outrage and anger is no good in a book of evidence. What you have to get is hard evidence.” are the words of the Minister for Justice. “Anger is not a Policy”, those of the Minister for Finance.
The Fine Gael party during this debate are accused of being Populist. This element of Populism is one I can easily live with because it is right and justified.
There is a growing sense of anger, outrage and frustration among Irish people that the Government for whatever reason is not prepared, outside of the usual platitudes, to deal with it.
It was some indictment when in 2005 the Irish Financial Markets were described by the New York Times as “The Wild West of European Financial Services”
The Department of Finance and others vigorously defended Ireland’s reputation at the time. As it now is obvious a sham defence of the indefencible.
If at that time we approached things differently –
Would we be in a better position if we took white-collar crime seriously?
Would we be in a better position if we protected whistleblowers properly?
Would we be in a better position if we recognised the incestuous and claustrophobic nature of elements of our business, regulatory and public sector?
I think we would.
There have been far too many requests by those in authority to “don the green jersey”. It’s a jersey that’s in dire need of cleaning and even re-release. In honestly pursuing the spirit of this motion any Government is getting to the fundamentals and has some chance of sucessfully running an economy in the future. I suspect this Government has no real will to do so.