Wednesday 16 August 2017

Harris refuses to back watchdog after collapse of FitzPatrick trial

Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Frank McGrath
Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Frank McGrath
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

A second Cabinet minister has said the Government cannot express confidence in the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) following the dramatic collapse of the Seán FitzPatrick trial.

As the Cabinet prepares to discuss the fallout from the debacle, Health Minister Simon Harris said the Government must now look at the setting up of a new anti-corruption agency.

Mr Harris said the Government should have backed a previous anti-corruption bill tabled by the Social Democrats.

But he insisted such a move would not have prevented the collapse of the trial involving the former chairman of the Anglo Irish Bank.

"The question is how does the ODCE interact with the courts, and with the Director of Public Prosecutions?

"I cannot, and the Government cannot, express confidence in this office," Mr Harris told RTÉ's 'The Week in Politics'.

His remarks came after Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said the ODCE is "clearly not fit for purpose".

Ms Fitzgerald said there is an "absolute sense of outrage from the public over the lack of accountability".

Meanwhile, new documents released under the Freedom of Information Act have shown staff shortages in the ODCE.

Letters published yesterday show that the most senior Garda post, a detective inspector role, has remained vacant for eight months.

In one letter, ODCE boss Ian Drennan described the vacancy as "a very serious development" given the agency was facing into "a lengthy and complex trial".

Speaking on RTÉ's 'This Week' programme, Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin said a US-style anti-fraud agency is now required

"We need an organisation like the SEC, Securities and Exchange Commission, in the US that is genuinely feared by those who would trespass against company law."

Mr Howlin also criticised vacancies in the agency.

"Out of 13,000 gardaí in the country, the notion that you couldn't find three to give to the ODCE is not credible," Mr Howlin said.

Irish Independent

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