Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Questions (10, 11, 12)

Joe McHugh

Question:

9Deputy Joe McHugh asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will provide an update on his strategy for combatting white collar crime as outlined in the page 17 of the Programme for Government; if he will update Dáil Éireann on the investigation into Anglo-Irish Bank; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29709/12]

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Dara Calleary

Question:

11Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the progress that has been made in white collar crime investigations into the Anglo-Irish Bank; his views on the pace of progress being made; the number of gardaí involved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29715/12]

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Luke 'Ming' Flanagan

Question:

17Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality when a report will issue on the ongoing investigation which is being carried out as a joint operation between the Garda’s fraud investigation squad and the office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23748/12]

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Oral answers (11 contributions) (Question to Minister for Justice)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9, 11 and 17 together.

As I indicated in my reply to Deputy Jonathan O'Brien, the Garda Commissioner has advised me that the Garda investigations in respect of Anglo Irish Bank are substantially complete. A number of Garda investigation files have been submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions and her independent directions are awaited. A full investigation team remains employed at the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation to conduct necessary follow-up inquiries. The Commissioner has assured me that this work is receiving absolute priority. I understand a number of files have also been submitted by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement and that he regards the investigative phase of his office's work as almost complete.

The latest information I have from the Garda authorities indicates that 23 members of An Garda Síochána are or were engaged in the investigations into Anglo Irish Bank, including nine members of An Garda Síochána currently seconded to the ODCE and 14 personnel at the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation. I am sure Deputies will appreciate that it is imperative at this point that nothing is said that might jeopardise any prosecution.

Turning to the question of white collar crime generally, I remain resolute in my determination that such crimes be fully investigated in order that the perpetrators may be brought to justice. This commitment is underscored in the programme for Government and, on taking office, the Government gave priority to satisfying itself that the necessary resources, both personnel and legal, were available to the investigations connected with Anglo Irish Bank. I was given assurances that this was the case, but I made it clear at all times that I would address any concern brought to my attention.

My commitment to tackling white collar crime was further underscored by the swift action I took within eight weeks of taking up office to move urgently to draft and seek Government approval for the introduction of additional legislation. This new legislation, the Criminal Justice Bill 2011, was enacted on 2 August 2011. I am also bringing forward a new Bill to clarify and strengthen the law on corruption and to replace a number of overlapping corruption Acts stretching back to Victorian times. The heads of that Bill were published today.

On taking office, I raised a number of cases of white collar crime with the Garda Commissioner and I am being briefed on an ongoing basis on the progress of the investigations. I am assured by the Commissioner that the resources allocated to the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation are sufficient to meet the demands placed on it and I will respond, as necessary, to further legislative needs raised by An Garda Síochána or any of the other bodies involved in the investigation and prosecution of white collar crime.

I have time for two questions from Deputies Joe McHugh and Dara Calleary.

I thank the Minister for his reply and acknowledge his speedy activity at the beginning of the Dáil session in introducing the Criminal Justice Bill 2011. The programme for Government commits to tackling white collar crime. I acknowledge that the Garda is playing a proactive and constructive role in investigating these matters at the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, IBRC. It is important to outline the feelings of the people towards this case, as described on the doorstep during the 2011 general election. They are not looking for blood on the carpet or heads on a platter, rather they are looking for justice, fairness and a level playing field. With this in mind-----

A question, please.

If we are to follow through fully on the philosophy of fairness and equal treatment, is the Minister satisfied with the powers conferred on the Garda to investigate the matters in question? I am conscious of the fact that he does not want to make a public comment, as the matter is still at an investigative stage.

The Minister stated that, in the context of this investigation, it was more important to have the same number of people consistently engaging in the investigation. Were there retirements before the end of February that might delay the investigation?

I welcome the publication this morning of the heads of the criminal justice (corruption) Bill. They are comprehensive and I hope the Minister will not be tempted or forced into watering them down. He will have my full support.

The Minister has a personal problem regarding the subject matter of my question. In the previous Dáil, particularly in the run-up to the general election, he set himself up as an Eliot Ness figure. He would take office on his big chariot and sort out issues. I will remind him of a question he asked at the time, as his response to Deputy Jonathan O'Brien was similar to one provided for him by the former Minister, Dermot Ahern. The Minister asked: "Does the Minister not understand that when someone who has not paid a fine of €250 ends up in Mountjoy Prison, someone who drives a truck into the gates of Leinster House ends up before the courts within 24 hours and bankers responsible for bringing the State to its knees and costing taxpayers €50 billion have not been brought before the courts it genuinely gives rise to a sense of public outrage, utter confusion and undermines confidence in our legal system?" This question is as true 15 months into his tenure as Minister as it was when he made it from this chair.

The Minister shares my frustration. Like the former Minister, he is also independent. Will he guarantee that there is an awareness within the law offices of the State of the importance of bringing this issue to a conclusion or putting it on a path that will bring it to a conclusion as soon as possible?

To respond to Deputy Joe McHugh, on my very first day in the Department of Justice and Equality I raised with my officials issues relating to these investigations and asked whether there was anything additional I could do as Minister and whether additional legislation or other additional resources were required. What was needed was the Criminal Justice Act 2011. I do not know why my predecessor did not enact that legislation. It was of huge importance because at the time there were individuals obstructing the Garda investigation, not making available crucial information that was necessary and not giving access to information held electronically. This would have advanced the investigation if the previous Government had enacted that legislation.

It has been in place for one year and we have gone no further.

The legislation facilitated the Garda in progressing its work. The legislation that was through this House by July last year resulted in the first application being made to the District Court on 6 September last year. It proved very effective in accessing information. I am advised the powers given by it enabled the Garda to secure co-operation from a number of individuals who at that point were being unco-operative. If there was anything additional by way of legislation that the Garda or the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement required to be done, I can give the Deputy an absolute assurance it would be done.

I have to say to Deputy Calleary that I am amused of the image of myself as Eliot Ness. I have no illusions of being Eliot Ness.

The Minister is more Inspector Clouseau.

Nor am I as deluded as a certain Member, currently absent from the Chamber, who seems to think he is the reincarnation of Mahatma Ghandi or a Nelson Mandela-like figure. I do not suffer any of those particular illusions.

While I cannot in any way engage with the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, because it is an independent office, I am absolutely sure the director appreciates the importance of these particular matters, the extensive nature of the investigations that have been conducted, the large resources utilised in the conduct of them and the importance, if criminality has been revealed, of assessing without undue delay whether there is adequate evidence available to support the taking of a prosecution. Like all Members, I am anxious that we get clarity on that as early as possible. In fairness to the DPP, it is important that any decisions made are considered and based on the totality of the information and evidence available.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.