Corporate watchdog lacks staff

THE Government has defended its decision to provide less than half of the extra staff sought by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE).

The ODCE, which was set up in 2001, requested 20 additional staff in 2005 to cope with an increased workload. This week, the Government finally agreed to provide eight new staff.

Paul Appleby, director of corporate enforcement, has warned that he cannot pursue as many cases he wants due to the lack of resources. His office currently employs 36 people, including a number of gardaí.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern defended the decision not to give the ODCE the number of staff it demanded.

“The reason he’s not getting all the staffing is that we made a priority in that department to create new labour inspectors,” Mr Ahern told the Dáil yesterday.

“It’s just a matter of priorities. It’s not that his work is not considered important.”

Enterprise, Trade & Employment Minister Micheál Martin said: “We are committing eight staff, four in the first quarter and four in the second half of the year, and we will be keeping the issue under review.”

Minister Martin said the Government was also constrained in keeping public sector employment figures down and it was prioritising employee and consumer rights with the establishment of the National Employment Rights Authority and the National Consumer Agency.

Labour’s enterprise spokesman Ruari Quinn rejected the Government’s claims that restrictions on public sector recruiting lay behind the delay in appointing more staff to the ODCE.

“This is certainly one area where recruitment restrictions make absolutely no sense. Mr Appleby’s office has a particularly strong record in detecting offences and imposing penalties. Extra investigative staff would more than pay for themselves within a short time.

“People who are considering investing in Ireland or who are trading with this country want to have confidence in our system of corporate enforcement.

“The government must provide the staff and resources to ensure that we achieve and maintain the highest possible standards in this regard.”

The ODCE is this year set to tackle a number of high profile cases. Among those it is seeking to ban from acting as company directors in the future are millionaire builders Tom and Michael Bailey, Fianna Fáil donors who made the State’s largest-ever tax settlement.

The office also wants to disqualify several former National Irish Bank executives, blamed for aiding massive tax evasion in the 1990s.

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