The ODCE — under fire since the collapse of the Seán FitzPatrick trial — is facing two separate probes and calls by numerous Cabinet members and Opposition politicians for it to be disbanded and replaced with a new anti-corruption agency.
But Transparency International Ireland is warning that reforming the body, or replacing it, will not work if sufficient supports are not put in place. Chief executive John Devitt said the Government had to decide whether to maintain the current system where investigating white-collar crime was the responsibility of multiple agencies such as the ODCE, the Standards in Public Office Commission, the Central Bank, and the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau, or to amalgamate them.
But he stressed: “Whether you continue with the multi-agency model that we currently use to investigate white collar criminal offences, or establish a unitary economic crimes or anti-corruption agency, it’s important that it be allowed to go about its work free from political interference and that it be adequately resourced.”
He said the Hong Kong anti-corruption agency had more than 1,000 staff. The ODCE had fewer than 40 and SIPO, just 15. He added that any reformed ODCE or new agency should not be funded and overseen by the Minister for Enterprise as is the case now, but should be directly answerable to the Dáil.
Enterprise Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor has demanded a full report from ODCE director, Ian Drennan, by June 23, and the Oireachtas Committee on Jobs has written to him asking him to come before it “as a matter of urgency”.
But Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Health Minister Simon Harris have already effectively discounted the findings of both exercises, declaring the ODCE unfit for purpose. Ms Fitzgerald said at the weekend that the collapse of the trial, amid criticisms of bias, file-shredding, and witness coaching by the prosecution, was an “absolute disgrace”.
“Given what people have suffered, people feel there is unfinished business and the failings of the agency are profound. It was clearly not fit for purpose,” she said.
Mr Harris, told RTÉ the office did not have the competence for major investigations such as Anglo. “It’s an office that was largely taking cases to the District Court,” he said. He added “nothing is off the table” when it came to deciding its future.
Labour’s Brian Howlin and the Social Democrats’ Roisín Shortall called for a complete overhaul of the approach to white-collar crime while Fianna Fáil said that it had raised concerns about the staffing and expertise available to the ODCE long before the trial collapsed.
Since it was set up in 2001, it has only had its full complement of staff twice — in 2002 and 2003 — and has been missing at least one and sometimes several personnel every year since. It has been short three people in recent months.