Wednesday 22 November 2017

The watchdog: Major questions about system of corporate enforcement

Paul Appleby, former head of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Paul Appleby, former head of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Donal O'Donovan

Donal O'Donovan

The Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) was established in 2001 after a spate of corporate scandals in the late 1990s.

The agency has sweeping powers of investigation and enforcement. After the banking crisis, its resources were beefed up with extra staff and as many as 11 gardaí seconded to work on investigations. It, rather than gardaí, was the lead agency in the corporate investigations stemming from the banking collapse, which focused mainly on Anglo Irish Bank.

A quirk of company law meant Irish Nationwide Building Society's collapse didn't fall under ODCE authority, and there were no major investigations apart from the Banking Inquiry into other failed lenders.

The ODCE has had two directors since it was established. Paul Appleby led the agency from its creation until he retired in 2012 amid the threat of reduced pensions following cost-cutting reforms. Before taking the job, he was a senior civil servant in the Department of Enterprise.

In 2012, his surprise retirement announcement, in the midst of the Anglo probe, made headlines and he agreed to remain in the job for an extra six months for a smooth succession. He was replaced by current director Ian Drennan, who prior to taking the job headed the Irish Auditing and Accounting Supervisory Authority. He'd previously worked at the Department of Finance and the Comptroller & Auditor General's office.

Both were involved in overseeing the long-running investigations stemming from the collapse of Anglo - the biggest, most complex, high-profile and expensive action it ever undertook.

In a statement last night, the ODCE said issues raised by the case dated back eight years, and it was "a very different organisation to what it was at that time."

But the revelation that evidence it provided to the prosecution in the FitzPatrick case was unsafe is damning.

It raises fundamental question about the effectiveness of the agency.

Irish Independent

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