Friday 15 December 2017

Public must have answers about state's shambolic Anglo enquiry

Editorial Comment

Whether it is Simon Coveney or Leo Varadkar who wins the Fine Gael leadership race and succeeds Enda Kenny, one matter should be top of the new Taoiseach's agenda.

The details that have emerged to date about the collapse of the trial of former Anglo Irish Bank Chairman Sean Fitzpatrick are, to say the least, absolutely shocking.

Sean Fitzpatrick is now a free man and in the wake of his court ordered acquittal, the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) - the body charged with preventing and punishing white collar crime - finds itself on trial.

Other events last week - including the appalling terrorist atrocity in Manchester and the Fine Gael leadership race - pushed the story of the Fitzpatrick trial collapse off the front pages but the last few days have seen the focus return to the ODCE and the abject failures that characterised its investigation into the Anglo chairman.

These failures included coaching witnesses; shredding vital documents; carrying out a biased and flawed investigation and the appointment of a man with no relevant experience to head the enquiry.

It has also emerged that the ODCE breached EU laws on public procurement when it spent more than €300,000 on expert testimony for the trial and also, apparently, intervened in the appointment of Mr Fitzpatrick's defence counsel to an important role as trustee of a charity.

The collapsed trial will cost the taxpayer in the region of €3 million - including Sean Fitzpatrick's legal aid bill - which can be added to the €30 billion that the people have already coughed up to bail out Anglo.

Eight years after Anglo Irish Bank's nationalisation, many thousands of families across the country are still struggling to make ends meet thanks to the economic depression the bank's failure was helped trigger.

Public faith in the Gardaí had already been rocked by a succession of scandals and now the people find out that the body charged with stopping white collar crime is, at best, a grossly inept organisation that is seemingly incapable of carrying out even the most basic of criminal investigations.

The public is rightly furious and deserves answers. Quite simply, in a case like this heads must roll. We need more than the traditional enquiry or tribunal and official report that typically follows such scandals in Ireland.

We need to see a complete reorganisation of the ODCE and the other state agencies that are tasked with monitoring business and banking in Ireland. If that means the ODCE has to be moth balled and replaced then so be it.

An austerity battered populace needs to be able to have some faith that a banking crisis like that of 2008 won't be allowed to happen again. Messrs Varadkar and Coveney have both promised to be a new broom if elected Taoiseach. The first place they need to start sweeping is the ODCE.

Enniscorthy Guardian

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