Most regulators under-resourced - Our pretend policing is a real cancer

NOW that the initial response to last Monday’s teen-concert massacre in Manchester moves from the “what” and “who” phase to the “why” phase the question that has confounded Europe for decades returns to centre stage: “Why do young men like Salman Abedi — and Paris killers Chérif Kouachi, Saïd Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly — turn so violently against the society that offers them refuge?”

That conversation usually runs into the sand when it reaches the more challenging question: “How can Europe assimilate millions of refugees from cultures often actively hostile to our way of life? Can that process be completed successfully or might it destroy Europe as we know it?”

These are Europe’s Great Questions of the Day but we face an equally pressing question where the answer seems as remote, though it should not be in a functioning Republic: “Why do we tolerate a situation where nearly every regulatory agency or law, established to protect citizens’ interests, is so under-resourced or feeble that they are absolutely incapable of achieving those objectives?”

The eye-opening Beef Tribunal published its conclusions in July 1994 and since we have had a litany of tribunals, one costing more and taking longer than the other. This process is flawed. It costs too much and achieves little enough other than enriching those happy to play their part in these half-cocked melodramas offered as an alternative to real justice.

It is well past the time they were replaced by an over-arching investigate-and-prosecute agency with real teeth, with real motivation and with all the permanently-evolving skills needed to achieve the objectives anyone who cares for this society shares. But most of all, this agency would need the public, hands-on support and encouragement from Government because we cannot keep doing the same thing and expect a different result.

This pretend policing does not just apply to business. Efforts to protect our environment epitomise apathy. The light-touch regulation of third-level institutions, as RTÉ showed last week, is abused. Fishery protection, even without botched legislation and abandoned prosecutions, is laughable. Just last week Hiqa warned that care home legislation leaves very many people vulnerable, because it is not keeping pace with evolving care provision services, many of which are being privatised. The bank staff who misled customers over tracker mortgages are hardly losing sleep either.

This is a cultural issue, just like protecting whistleblowers is, and not a resources issue. The investigation into IBRC and the sale of SiteServ will cost around €10m, which is double the annual budget of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, an agency that was so exposed in recent days.

In the next while we will get a new Taoiseach. If Mr Kenny’s successor were to announce a timeable for establishing such an investigate-and-prosecute agency, he would, by an unprecedented commitment to justice, win near universal support — who could oppose it? — and probably secure his position for longer than even the most ambitious politician might dream. And he would be doing the right thing.

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