I propose to take Questions Nos. 38 and 48 together.
Section 12(5) of the Company Law Enforcement Act 2001 provides that the director shall be independent in the performance of his functions. As such it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the day to day activities of the director. While the 2003 end of year statement issued by the Director of Corporate Enforcement indicates that there was a very significant increase in the number of reports and complaints of suspected corporate misconduct reported to the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement in 2003 over 2002, it would not be correct to draw any inference from this that there has been an increase in corporate misconduct.
The year 2003 was only the second full year of operation of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. As the existence of the office becomes better known and the reporting obligations under the Company Law Enforcement Act 2001 are fully acted upon, there is likely to be an increase in the level of reporting of misconduct in the short term. It will take another couple of years of operation by the office to get a valid benchmark against which increases or decreases in the levels of corporate misconduct can be measured. The results available from the Companies Registration Office, which has a much longer track record, show a continuing and very significant improvement in the level of compliance by companies with their reporting obligations under the Companies Acts.
In regard to the comments in the director's end of year statement concerning insolvent companies continuing to trade, the Deputy will have noted that the director goes on to explain how he is addressing this issue. While it is too early to assess the full impact of the regime introduced by the Company Law Enforcement Act 2001, I am satisfied at this stage that the increased activity and detection of offences by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement show that the law and the office is working well.
The director has a range of powers available to him to oversee and act against errant companies, company directors and others. His office is well resourced with professional, administrative and Garda staff. If it emerges over time that there are shortcomings in the existing regime in identifying and pursuing wrongdoing, I have no doubt that the director will bring these to my attention so that they can be addressed.