A GARDA operation developed in County Clare to combat unlawful money lending, is now being used as a model across the country.
Operation Payday targeted unlicensed money lending in Kilrush and was the initiative of the then superintendent in the town, Seamus Nolan, who is now based at the Garda College in Templemore.
It resulted in the arrest of five individuals, who are due to face trial before the Circuit Criminal Court in Ennis. If successfully prosecuted, a senior garda believes the case will be “groundbreaking”.
He explained the legislation used in this operation, the Consumer Credit Act 1995, is seldom used and is one which has resulted in few successful prosecutions.
Operation Payday was rolled out in 2013 and involved months of observation and surveillance by gardaí in Kilrush in an effort to uncover the identity of persons involved in unlawful money lending. In December 2013, gardaí conducted searches and arrests were made, resulting in five people being charged.
Chief Superintendent John Kerin said the development and success of this operation has been recognised by senior garda management and it is now being used as a model for dealing with this type of crime.
“It was a really professional operation. Arising from it, Superintendent Seamus Nolan was invited to address regional meetings throughout the country with senior garda management, where he outlined how the operation was run, how it was managed and, as a consequence, it has been used as a prototype,” he said.
“Superintendent Nolan is a vastly experienced officer who worked in the National Bureau of Immigration as a detective garda. He was also a detective sergeant in Limerick in charge of most of the serious murder investigations which occurred there and gangland activity. From his vast experience he drafted this operation and ran it really successfully,” Chief Superintendent Kerin said.
Section 98 to 103 of the Consumer Credit Act deal with the prohibition on engaging in the business of money lending without a licence.
A senior garda explained, “The main things you need under the legislation is to have the co-operation of the victims of the crime. They have to come to the gardaí and say this is happening and the individuals have no licence to do so”.
While there have been prosecutions in the past under this legislation, it is understood that few moneylenders would have ever ended up before the courts under this legislation.
The operation has been presented as a model to other divisions and gardaí in Waterford and Sligo have specifically got in contact with the Kilrush District seeking their advice on the model.
“All the gardaí are showing huge interest in this,” the senior garda said.
The issue was raised at this week’s meeting of Clare’s Joint Policing Committee when Senator Martin Conway said there is speculation that this type of “It’s a very worrying situation that vulnerable families are turning to these ruthless moneylenders,” Senator Conway said on Monday.
After the meeting Senator Conway, who is Fine Gael’s Spokesperson on Justice in the Seanad, complimented Superintendent Seamus Nolan “on what was a very successful operation in Kilrush”.
“Money lending had been a major issue in Kilrush for a long time and the dogs in the street knew about it and knew it was going on. Vulnerable people were being singled out and targetted for far too long. I want to commend Superintendent Nolan for putting the resources, the time and effort into the operation that dealt with the money lending problems in Kilrush,” he said.
The senator said it came as no surprise that the structure of Operation Payday is now being used as a blueprint around the country for dealing with systematic money lending and that “it is a credit that it was pioneered in West Clare”.
He noted however that it was confirmed at Monday’s JPC by the Chief Superintendent, that unregulated money lending is also taking place in Ennis. He called on all parties to put resources in place to stamp this out.
“There are certain elements involved in it in Ennis and I sincerely hope that this illicit activity against vulnerable people in society will be dealt with in Ennis as it has been in other areas. It’s not just Ennis, I’m sure there is money lending on a smaller scale taking place in other parts of the county. I welcome [the Chief
Superintendent’s] commitment to dealing with this. As most people know, there are significant numbers of people who haven’t seen any recovery, who are in deep debt and who at a vulnerable time in their lives. They find themselves going to these vultures who are operating outside the law and outside any element of decency and who are using threats of criminal activity, using their reputation as big violent criminals, to force people into handing over practically everything they have in order to clear their debts at many multiples of the original debt they borrowed. This is a crime against society and it has to be stamped out,” he said.