Saturday 21 October 2017

Security of State 'is put at risk by rogue bankers'

FF's justice spokesman calls for white-collar investigation unit to deal with Anglo fallout

Fianna Fail Justice spokesman Niall Collins,TD
Fianna Fail Justice spokesman Niall Collins,TD
John Drennan

John Drennan

THE Fianna Fail justice spokesman Niall Collins has called for the establishment of

a white-collar criminal investigation bureau to deal with the still unresolved fallout from the Anglo Irish Tapes''.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Mr Collins warned that "the activity of rogue bankers and the disdain they displayed for any form of regulation represented a far greater threat to the security of the State than any loose association of criminals or set of Republican activists''.

Meanwhile, amid increasingly terse exchanges between the Government and the opposition, the chairman of the Fine Gael parliamentary party, Charles Flanagan, has warned that "any inquiry that descends into a narrow partisan scrap will do a gross disservice to politics, the State and the citizens".

He added: "The issue of discovering the truth about our banking crisis is far bigger than a narrow political scrap; the issue is one of imposing the authority of the State on those who brought the State down."

However, anger was palpable and ongoing in government circles about the damage done to Ireland's reputation in Germany by the tapes.

One senior minister told this newspaper "that the rendition of Deutschland Uber Alles was the equivalent in Germany of burning their national flag".

Meanwhile, the debate in government circles was still swirling about the most appropriate response to the renewed furore over the role of the collapse of Ireland's banks in the destruction of the Irish economy. Social Protection Minister Joan Burton told the Sunday Independent: "A Dail inquiry is possible if an appropriate, properly resourced legal and accountancy framework is put in place with persons of real calibre and serious experience in banking and accountancy."

She warned though that "the inquiry should not be seen to be partisan. People will be appalled by political grandstanding which will allow the real villains to escape unscathed."

However, in an example of the visceral anger in government circles, Ms Burton said that "the best beginning for any inquiry would be if Fianna Fail are seen to visibly co-operate; all serving ministers in the current party should draft statements detailing their involvement and recollections, particularly in matters such as the infamous incorporeal phone call" where the bailout was sanctioned in a series of phone calls to cabinet ministers.

In response, former Green Party cabinet minister Eamon Ryan said: "My position on this is bring it on and the sooner the better. In fact I would say why have you taken so long to get there, why are you wittering on about Seanad reform when this crisis was circling the building."

Leo Varadkar, meanwhile, has also called on "ministers in power during the economic crash to make public any records they have about the banking crisis and to give a full account of their recollections of events''.

He said "this material could then be laid before the Oireachtas Library for proper scrutiny. It could be papers, emails, or their own personal recollections."

Mr Varadkar said: "There's nothing stopping Micheal Martin and Fianna Fail from handing over whatever notes they have, making a statement, and then leaving it up to an Oireachtas inquiry to investigate this material at a later stage. There is no need to wait until the inquiry has actually been set up."

He added: "At least some of the ministers from the last government must have relevant information, and a clear memory of what happened, whether it's Micheal Martin or Eamon Ryan. But as things stand, Micheal Martin has never told us what he knew, or when he learned of it."

Meanwhile, in an attempt to break the squabble between the Public Accounts Committee and the Finance Committee over who might hold such an inquiry, it is understood that Mr Varadkar suggested at last week's meeting of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party that a special Oireachtas Committee comprising of TDs or senators with financial experience should be set up to investigate the bank crash.

He suggested setting up a dedicated committee chaired by someone with a background in accountancy or finance, who would be freed from their regular duties to concentrate on the inquiry.

However, in the wake of Mr Kenny's partisan "axis of collusion'' outburst, opinion in Leinster House is swinging towards the view that the establishment of a white-collar criminal investigation bureau is the best way to secure some form of accountability. Fine Gael sources also suggested that "Enda Kenny should be careful, he might face a few questions himself about how he got the wool pulled over his eyes".

They also asked: "Was that 7am phonecall on the day of the guarantee the only contact between Enda and the Taoiseach, or the Minister for Finance's office?"

In an echo of the position taken by Mr Collins, the Labour Party will also debate a motion calling on the Government to prioritise the establishment of "a dedicated garda task force led by an Assistant Commissioner, resourced with senior legal advisers, accountants, banking experts and other professionals advisers" to investigate suspected criminal activity in the banking sector.

One of the motions proposers, John Gilroy, told the Sunday Independent: "We need to leave our political timidity aside.

"We should not treat this like an ordinary crisis.''

Despite growing concerns about the capacity of a Dail inquiry to resolve this issue, the Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin will introduce the final stages of the Dail Inquiries Bill.

But Fianna Fail public expenditure spokesman Sean Fleming warned that such a bill did "not offer one scintilla of a new power'' to the Dail.

Mr Fleming warned that under this legislation "Cabinet confidentiality still holds; it is still absolute, those who advised on the bailout are still safe. The fellows who should be inquired into – Neary, the various secretaries-general in Finance, David Doyle, Kevin Cardiff, they all have carte blanche from being criticised.''

Mr Fleming added: "This bill represents nothing more than a great escape of the mandarins; it's the greatest piece of spin yet."

Irish Independent

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