Recently in Tribunals Category

My Tweets about Banking Inquiry

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Here are some of my tweets sent 27th-28th January 2016 following publication of the report by the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry:

  • In fairness, members of #bankinginquiry should be thanked for their hard work done under most ridiculous legal & time constraints.
  • Use of words in main #bankinginquiry report: mistake-16 regret-8 fault-4 fraud-1 corrupt-0 prosecut*-0 crime-0 incompeten*-0 blame-0.
  • Much more time was needed by #bankinginquiry for forensic, indepth questioning of key witnesses who got away much too lightly.
  • Ireland had the EU, euro & US Treasury who were afraid of contagion by the balls but #Noonan let go at the cost of €9 bn.
  • Full cost of banking/building disaster was over €100,000,000,000. 'No blame' #bankinginquiry report results in no sanctions.
  • #bankinginquiry could not say "BOO" to anyone. Spineless responses should not be tolerated in future inquiries.
  • #bankinginquiry proves that, in Ireland, gross incompetence & much worse is rewarded by new jobs, fat pensions & forgiven debts.
  • What happened to "moral hazard"? What will stop the banking/building disaster from recurring unless there are clear sanctions?
  • Incompetence of bankers, developers, regulators, mandarins, advisers, politicians & trioka fully exposed by #bankinginquiry.
  • Irish inquiries & commissions are just ways for establishment to bury scandals, incompetence, corruption & bad news.

See & Hear No Evil

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The search for the Anglo tapes whistleblower reminds us that the only person convicted in connection with the Beef Tribunal was a whistleblowing journalist.

The Minister of Finance has reportedly complained, in relation to the tapes, that the media should stop "mucking around in garda business".  Surely, politicians are the parties most guilty of "mucking around" for having failed to set up a robust and comprehensive public inquiry into the most damaging event in the State's history.

They also appear to have failed to provide adequate resources to the Fraud Squad, Director of Public Prosecutions and Office of Corporate Enforcement to complete rapid and extensive investigations into events that have left citizens footing a bill for at least €64 billion.

Lead letter in the Sunday Business Post on 14th July 2013.

Inquire and Take Action

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Through greed, incompetence and negligence a few hundred people have set this country back decades in economic and social terms, and have sullied its international reputation. In the few cases where "sanctions" have been applied, they have amounted to big pensions and fat payoffs instead of sanctions and reparation.

Notwithstanding the magnitude and duration of the crisis, we still have no clear plans for a proper public banking inquiry. As in other countries, a comprehensive, lawyer-free and apolitical inquiry could expose systemic failures and serve as a pathfinder for possible prosecutions. To progress this, last years's referendum on Oireachtas inquiries should be rerun in lieu of the planned Seanad referendum.

Because white collar crime can be extremely difficult to prove due to its complexity, wriggle room and "memory lapses", civil actions, as an alternative to criminal prosecutions, could be initiated against the key individuals against whom adverse inquiry findings are made. This route could reduce the burden of proof, speed up collection and presentation of evidence and reduce the duration and complexity of legal actions.

Letter published in the Irish Times on 27th June 2013.

Mahon Tribunal

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At the same time that the Mahon Tribunal was hearing evidence about corruption and wrong doing, about a 100 people - politicians, bankers, senior administrators and developers - were engaged, directly or indirectly, in stoking a crisis that has brought the country to the edge of bankruptcy. But, instead of being subjects of a major public enquiry and sanctions, these people have secured huge pensions, payoffs and bailouts.

At the very same time that the Mahon Report was published, the Central Statistics Office reported that our national economy (i.e. GNP) has declined by 14.8 percent over the past four years. This points to a continuing deep depression, rather than a mere recession - or even a recovery as some vested interests, here and abroad, would like to spin.

Nothing can change until everything has been changed.

Letter published in the Sunday Business Post on 1st April 2012.

White Collar Crime and Inquiries

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Following on from John McManus's piece (12th September) would someone explain why civil actions cannot  be initiated against the key individuals that grossly mismanaged the economy, the banks and their borrowings over the past decade? This legal route would speed up the collection and presentation of evidence and reduce the duration and complexity of any possible trials.

It is worth noting that the Quinn family has gone to court claiming grounds for suing Anglo for alleged negligence, breach of duty and intentional and/or negligent infliction of economic damage and, separately, that the High Court has ruled that the chief executive and director of a leading bank (NIB) was grossly negligent and that his conduct had fallen below the required standard and constituted a fundamental failure of governance.

Surely, grounds for pursuing politicians, regulators, senior civil servants, bank directors and major property developers might include possible breach of trust, dereliction of duty, failure to manage, incompetence, negligence, fraudulent or reckless trading, dodgy tax activities, misrepresentation, failure to disclose, lying, falsifying documentation, breach of fiduciary duty, abdication of duty of care and so on.

Maybe, passing the referendum on Dail committees will (at last) facilitate the establishment of a proper investigation, with the assistance of whistleblowers, into what went wrong and who were primarily responsible and thus opening up the scope for civil actions.

Letter published in the Irish Times on 16th September 2011.

Moral Hazard with Justice

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Many international commentators including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Financial Times and Economist have queried the pain being inflicted on Irish taxpayers arising from the banking crisis. They had anticipated that taxpayers would be at the end of the pain queue after shareholders, management, borrowers and lenders.

Instead, they have been pushed to the front of the queue immediately after bank shareholders. At the same time, managements continue to enjoy huge salaries and pensions, borrowers get massive bale-outs thanks to taxpayer-supported Nama, and lenders are secured by guarantees underwritten by taxpayers.

Where is the "moral hazard" and justice in this?

Where are the public enquiries into the destruction of over €50 billion of wealth?

Where are the apologies and offers of restitution from the still wealthy borrowers hiding behind limited liability and sloppy documentation?

Where is the political leadership that puts citizens ahead of cronies and sound strategies ahead of self-serving spin?

Where are the prosecutions for blatantly fraudulent, reckless business activities?

Letter published in the Sunday Business Post on 10th October 2010. 

Economic Recklessness

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Through greed, incompetence and negligence a few hundred people have set this country back a decade, or more, in economic and social terms. In the few cases where "sanctions" have been applied, they have amounted to big pensions and fat payoffs instead of sanctions and punishments.

Notwithstanding the magnitude of the crisis, we still see no plans for a comprehensive public enquiry and we know that proving white collar crime can be extremely difficult due to complexity, wriggle room and "lapses of memory".

Given the scale of the economic and social devastation, it is inconceivable that any further painful remedial measures will be accepted by the nation unless firm lessons on "moral hazard" are seen to have been applied.

This could be done by designating economic recklessness (alongside the existing crime of reckless trading) as a crime and setting up a judicial or Dail-based investigation to identify the most culpable organisations within the public and private sectors based on public testimony of experts. The Honohan and Regling scoping enquiries would be relevant inputs regarding developments prior to September 2008.

Having decided which boards and groups of administrators should be examined in detail, the investigation should proceed with public questioning of relevant individuals leading, where appropriate, to files being passed to the ODCE or DPP. The level of proof for economic recklessness convictions should be the civil rather than criminal level to take account of the difficulties associated with prosecuting "white collar" crime.

Penalties for economic recklessness should include lengthy prison sentences, massive fines (linked to the wealth of the convicted) with significant scaling back for those who admit complicity or become whistleblowers.

Mental Reservations and Mature Reflection

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Is it too much to expect people in public positions to answer questions truthfully without recourse to mental reservations, mature reflection or overnight consideration?

Letter to editor published in the Sunday Business Post on 6th December 2009.

Restoring Confidence in Politics

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One of the most troubling things about the Taoiseach's resignation has been the headlines in the international media which used words like resignation, scandal, payments, allegations in various combinations. This damage to our reputation must be urgently addressed by the incoming Taoiseach along the following lines:

  1. Take the long overdue Ethics Bill in the current Dail session.
  2. Introduce legislation to protect all whistle blowers in lieu of the current patchwork sectoral approach.
  3. Roll back changes and charges relating to Freedom of Information and broaden its coverage.
  4. Give more powers to Dail committees to conduct investigations along the lines of the Public Accounts Committee.
  5. Establish a Dail Committee to confirm all significant Government appointments to State boards etc.
  6. Preclude Ministers from signing non-essential orders or making appointments once an election has been called.
  7. Clear up all the obvious flaws governing donations to politicians before and during elections.
  8. Follow up on the Standards in Public Office Commission's recommendations.
  9. Require that the accounts of political parties be audited and placed in the public domain.

These measures would kick start the process of restoring the electorate's confidence in the political system and politicians.

Letter published in the Irish Times on 5th April 2008. 

The Taoiseach & The Tribunal

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The most unsettling thing about the Taoiseach and his finances is the failure of judgement being displayed by the governing parties. The Taoiseach should have been "urged" to step aside long ago to facilitate due process and to avoid distracting from effective government of the country. Instead, ministers sat on their hands while burying heads in the sand.

In fairness, the Taoiseach has been a victim of the "no resign under any circumstances" syndrome which permeates Irish politics. A higher standard would have allowed him to step aside with no imputation of wrongdoing and to fight his corner with greater freedom. As a consequence, the country is now being run, if that word can be used loosely, by a distracted government which places parties first, shirks collective cabinet responsibility and betrays the electorate's trust. How can ordinary citizens register their disgust other than by voting No in June?

Letter published in the Irish Times on 2nd April 2008.

Tribunal TV

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The best way to save money on the tribunals would to broadcast their proceedings live on TV, radio or the Internet. If the Internet option is used for streaming audio and or video, there would be no problems about dislocating other programming or frequencies. The cost should be more than offset by the resultant time savings.

I'm sure that televising the DIRT enquiry and the UK's Hutton enquiry helped concentrate minds, improve memories and speed up the information gathering. Taxpayers should be allowed assess for themselves, without having to go to the Castle, when witnesses were truthful, competent and helpful or lying, forgetful, waffling and making complete fools of themselves.

Tax, Property & Tribunals

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A few themes have emerged in recent days.

Firstly, the failure of the Government to address findings of the Oireachas report on private property and land prices as eloquently explained by James Pike (27th June). In effect, the Government has presided over a housing land grab by speculators which has contributed hugely to the surge in house prices and has resulted in an additional debt burden on hundreds of thousands of voters for decades to come. It is not too late for the Government to take concrete action on this before the next election. However, if it only becomes an election promise, nobody will believe it.

Secondly, the axiom that the more people earn the more taxes they pay clearly does not apply to Ireland. Instead, millionaire earners can hide behind Government-inspired tax shelters and avoid tax while Sean Citizen pays the full whack. To add insult to injury, Sean has to compete in the housing market with investors whose purchases are being part-funded by his taxes. From a national viewpoint, this  taxpayer-subsidised property bonanza has enabled many investors to use their tax-relieved gains to leverage massive investments abroad which bring absolutely no benefit back to the nation. Why should someone earning €50,000 pay tax at 42% while an earner of €250,000 might only pay at 20% on income and capital gains? Surely, a top rate of tax should do what it says on the tin. If all personal tax allowances are eliminated, a new top rate of, say, 35% on income and capital might give the same return to the Exchequer as the present inequitable regime. If individuals wish to make investments, let them do it through companies where the tax rate is only 12.5% and let the distributions be taxed at the standard rate.

Thirdly, the tribunals trundle along on a wave of perjury and forgetfulness. In any other civilised country, the full weight of the law would be thrown at these issues and instead of "slaps on the wrist" we'd see guilty people making "perp walks" and enjoying State-funded hospitality. If the authorities lack resources and expertise, they could seek support from the prosecuting teams used in recent high-profile financial trials in the US. Where is the anti-corruption agency promised years ago by the Taoiseach and where is the long overdue legislation to protect whistle blowers? Probably being dusted off as election promises (again).

What is common to these themes is a complete failure of Government to govern fairly. Instead, it has pursued a policy of making the wealthy richer and ignored the fact that, as Fianna Fail backbenchers are belatedly discovering, the rich account for few votes.

Lead letter was published in the Irish Times on 30th June 2006.

Tribunal Offences

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Which is the more serious offence - obstructing a bin lorry for a few days or a tribunal for an extended period ?

Letter published in the Irish Times on 23rd September 2003.

Televise the Tribunals

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I observed two of the tribunals in operation before their Summer breaks and was I was shocked at the behavior by some parties and by the difficulties experienced by the tribunals in getting simple answers to simple questions.

As we move into the tribunal season, I suggest that all public tribunals should  consider broadcasting their proceedings live on TV, radio or the Internet. The cost of this will be more than offset by resultant time savings. If the Internet option is used for streaming audio and or video, there would be no problems about dislocating other programming or frequencies.

I'm sure that televising the DIRT enquiry and the extensive re-enactments of the Hutton enquiry have helped greatly to concentrate minds, improve memories and speed up the information gathering. It is one thing for witnesses to "carry on" in the relative privacy of the tribunal rooms but it is an entirely different thing to do so if (hundreds of) thousands of people are listening or watching.

I'm sure that this measure would be very popular based the interest shown in the Flood Tribunal's interim report. Given that the tribunals are being funded by the taxpayer, their broadcasting, for informational or entertainment purposes, might offer us a partial return on this investment.

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