I move amendment No. 1:
In page 14, line 19, after "this Act" to insert the following:
"save that the Minister may not make such an order without also tabling a statement before both Houses of the Oireachtas to the effect that the relevant state agencies have sufficient resources to enforce the provisions being brought into effect".
During Committee Stage discussion concern was expressed by a number of Deputies on all sides that we have frequently passed legislation which we were subsequently unable to enforce effectively. Indeed, if you look at Irish legislation on almost any subject you will find it is quite modern by international standards, but unfortunately the reality is that we do not seem to be able to provide sufficient personnel or resources and sufficient training for the personnel involved to adequately enforce at least some of the legislation we pass. Legislation dealing with company fraud or what might be popularly described as white collar crime is particularly difficult to enforce without adequate personnel and adequate training for those personnel.
This Companies (No. 2) Bill makes a huge change in our company law. It creates a number of new criminal offences, particularly the offence of reckless trading. Obviously, to prove that somebody traded recklessly at a given time will require a detailed investigation, not just of the affairs of the company at the time the investigation is taking place but of the affairs of the company at the time a director, who may be the subject of the prosecution, failed for example to move for the company to be liquidated; in other words, one requires to be able to get information about a particular point in time in the past in addition to simply getting information that may be available now.
If the companies legislation is to be effectively enforced we must have a firm commitment from the Government that adequate resources will be provided. We have a very clear example of the inadequacy of the present resources in this general area when we contemplate the Merchant Banking collapse. In that case the institution had a branch — or associated companies at least — in Northern Ireland. They also had a branch, or associated companies, and their head-quarters on this side of the Border. Subsequent to the collapse, companies in the two jurisdictions were investigated. In this jurisdiction, although a report was produced by the liquidator which contained very serious allegations no action was taken in the court on foot of the allegations, arguably because the resources did not exist on this side of the Border, in the Fraud Squad or elsewhere, to assemble the evidence in such a way that a judge might be persuaded to accept that wrongdoing had taken place.
There has been no suggestion that the reason action was not taken on the report was that legislation here was inadequate. No explanation has been given for action not being taken. However, in Northern Ireland in respect of the same company, in respect of basically the same facts, a prosecution was taken and brought to finality in respect of a company whose major scene of operations was on this side of the Border. That clearly indicates that unless there was some interference with the freedom of action of the Fraud Squad or of the Director of Public Prosecutions there clearly was an inadequacy in the evidence-gathering capacity of the people concerned with the enforcement of the then company law, Central Bank legislation and so on in respect of which breaches were alleged.
This is one of the biggest Bills to go through the House in 20 years. It has required a huge amount of work by successive Ministers concerned, their officials and Deputies. However, all that work will be nothing more than an elaborate waste of time unless the resources exist to enforce it properly. If there is in legislative terms what one might describe as an Irish disease it is passing high sounding legislation, putting it on the Statute Book and failing to enforce it. Let us ensure in this House today that that will not happen in regard to the Companies Bill.
The proposal which Deputy Barrett and I are making is to require an amendment to section 2 of the Bill which provides for an order to be made by the Minister to bring various parts of the Bill into operation. He has discretion in this regard, he can bring some parts in at certain times and he can defer the introduction of parts of the Bill to a later date. We propose that the Minister may not make an order to bring this Bill into effect without also, at the same time, tabling a statement in his name before both Houses of the Oireachtas to the effect that the relevant State agencies, the Companies Office, the Fraud Squad, the DPP or whatever, have sufficient resources to enforce the provisions being brought into effect. If accepted by the House, that will require the Minister before he puts his signature to that order to address specifically the issue of ensuring that adequate resources are available to enforce the legislation.
It will force the Government to address that issue and it will considerably strengthen the Minister's hand in his negotiations with the Minister for Finance who is responsible for the public service in obtaining whatever staff are necessary to ensure the legislation is effective. If the Minister has to say he is putting his name to a formal statement lodged before the House that there are adequate resources, that solemn, statutory obligation placed on him will place a very significant weapon in his hand in any negotiations he has with the Minister for Finance with a view to getting whatever extra staff are necessary to enforce the legislation.
Far from causing a delay the amendment will provide the Minister with additional strength to get the staff necessary to ensure that this very important legislation is effectively enforced.