Saturday 1 October 2016

Lenihan relatives will not get audience at the banking inquiry

Published 04/05/2015 | 02:30

The late Brian Lenihan
The late Brian Lenihan

There is no move to allow relatives of the late Finance Minister, Brian Lenihan, appear before the Banking Inquiry, it has emerged.

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Mr Lenihan's family have strongly criticised comments by former European Central Bank (ECB) president Jean-Claude Trichet at the inquiry last Thursday.

Mr Trichet denied that he phoned the finance minister in September 2008, telling him to "save the Irish banks at all costs" just days before the bank deposit guarantee was announced.

Mr Lenihan's aunt, the former minister Mary O'Rourke, said she believed Mr Lenihan's version of events over that of the former ECB president.

Speaking yesterday, Ms O'Rourke said somebody could well have made this call on the then-ECB president's behalf.

"He said he did not telephone. He may not have telephoned. Somebody acting for him may well have. I believe Brian got a telephone call," Ms O'Rourke told RTÉ radio.

A spokesman for the Banking Inquiry committee said he could make no further comment on the question of right of reply for Mr Lenihan. "We are all very conscious of the family's position and the real tragedy involved. We are also mindful of our responsibilities to everybody," he said.

But committee sources said the work schedule as laid out - which does not include Mr Lenihan's relatives at present - will proceed. This involves direct testimony including that of a long-time ECB vice-president, Vitor Constancio, officials from the Finance Department, and the former Taoiseach, Brian Cowen.

Ms O'Rourke yesterday also criticised the committee for travelling to the Royal Hospital in Dublin to listen to the former ECB president by special arrangement. "He did not take an oath, he did not have to take an oath. Anyone who goes into Leinster House to the committee has to take an oath," Ms O'Rourke said.

The former TD for Longford-Westmeath said she believed the setting was wrong and it had been a case of the committee being "summoned to the master". Ultimately, the committee members were made to look like schoolchildren, the former teacher added.

"This is all wrong. The setting was wrong. The idea that you would go like a schoolboy or schoolgirl to be summoned to the master, that was my instant thought," she told RTÉ presenter Marian Finucane.

The Banking Inquiry will now examine telephone records from Mr Lenihan to try and establish if any phone call was made. Many committee members were unhappy with the format of Mr Trichet's hearing but accepted it as a workable compromise.

Fianna Fáil's finance spokesman Michael McGrath said the format was an "unsatisfactory compromise" between the inquiry and Mr Trichet but he said members had a "stark choice" between accepting Mr Trichet's terms or have no testimony at all. Mr McGrath did not accept Mr Trichet's claims that he could not come before the parliamentary inquiry proper.

The current ECB vice-president Vitor Constancio, who was the head of the Portuguese Central Bank until 2010, was nominated in February to represent the bank in "informal discussions" with the Oireachtas bank committee. He sat on the board of the ECB throughout the bank crisis and subsequent Irish bailout.

Details of how Mr Constancio's testimony will be handled are still being worked out. But it is likely to occur at Leinster House.

Committee sources have stressed at all times that the main focus in dealing with witnesses was to get testimony which is legally acceptable for compiling the final report and for reference to other witnesses.

Irish Independent

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