It should not go unnoticed that the first significant piece of criminal justice legislation introduced by the Government concerns white collar crime. This legislation sends out a clear message, that white collar crime will no longer be tolerated in this country.
Let us make no mistake, peoples tolerance of white collar crime is wearing thin. There are wider implications for the Oireachtas if we do not deal with it in a fundamental manner. Having campaigned in opposition as a deputy spokesperson on justice with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, I am conscious that he is acutely aware of the insidious nature of white collar crime and the overall impact it is now beginning to have on the justice system. I welcome the legislation, but view it merely as a point at which to begin. In parallel with and in conjunction to this type of legislation, we must ensure that no operational impediments are placed in the way of those agencies charged with the investigation of those offences.
The new Government’s approach to the problem of white collar crime is in sharp contrast to the dismissive approach of the former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, who at one stage said in reply to the Director of Corporate Enforcements request for additional staff to tackle the problem in 2006 that he could wait his turn.
It is vital that specific legislative initiatives on the protection of whistleblowers are introduced. I welcome the commitment in the programme for Government in that regard. There is currently little provision for the protection of those who expose offences under company law or in the provision of financial services. We must both encourage and protect whistleblowers. Recently, the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the ODCE as far back as 2007, called for legislation to protect whistleblowers in cases of alleged white collar crime. The act of exposing corruption and financial crime is never easy. It is a lonely place for the individual who tries to address wrongs. One runs the risk of ridicule and estrangement. The very least one would expect is an acknowledgement from and the support of the State through its legislation and attitude at the initial stages.
The ODCE, the fraud squad and other bodies are drowning in paperwork and are not helped by a most restrictive legal situation. The Bill goes some way towards redressing the imbalance. There appears to be different schools of opinion on our ability to fight white collar crime. At a recent conference hosted by the Irish Criminal Bar Association, some of the countrys leading prosecutors questioned the need for new laws. I refer in particular to Shane Murphy, SC.
That cloudy interpretation must be addressed by the Government. The Criminal Justice Bill must be just the beginning of a process in which it ultimately becomes clear and unambiguous that the State will not tolerate those who act with impunity in relation to white collar crime. There is no doubt that the complexities of financial crime create a high challenge for investigators and prosecutors. Wealthy individuals and clever legal representatives are well able to exploit the current situation. Today’s legislation is a step, but only that, in the right direction.