Cowen accused of 'cover-up' over private nature of inquiry
Bank probe will keep taxpayers in the dark
TAXPAYERS who forked out billions to rescue the banks will be kept in the dark for at least a year over the reasons for the financial crisis.
Opposition parties last night accused the Government of a "whitewash" and a "cover-up" as it announced its plans for a commission of inquiry, which will be largely conducted in private.
Under the plan, it is far from clear if Taoiseach Brian Cowen and other senior Fianna Fail politicians will ever face a public grilling.
The investigation, which will get under way immediately, will be multi-faceted:
- A panel of experts will carry out an initial investigation into the banking crisis, while the Central Bank governor will produce a report on the role of the bank and the Financial Regulator. They should report by the end of May.
- An Oireachtas committee, which will receive the reports, will meet the governor and the independent experts to detail what areas the Dail and Seanad want covered.
- An independent commission of investigation, to be modelled on the Murphy inquiry into child abuse in the Dublin archdiocese, will be set up by end of June, using the two reports to shape its terms of reference.
- The report of the commission of investigation will be finished within six months and go before the Oireachtas committee where it finally get a public hearing.
The plans were widely interpreted as stopping well short of the Green Party's demands for an open investigation with a significant element done by the Oireachtas. Instead, it was generally in keeping with what Fianna Fail ministers were believed to want. The Government expects the bulk of the work to be completed within a year.
The inquiry's remit will stop at September 2008, the time of the bank guarantee scheme, so it will look at the causes of the crisis, but not the Government's subsequent actions. Major decisions such as the nationalisation of Anglo Irish Bank and the recapitalisation of AIB, Bank of Ireland and Anglo will not be included.
The role of the Oireachtas in the inquiry was described as minimal by the opposition and there are fears it will take longer than a year.
Mr Cowen said he was available to cooperate with any aspect of the inquiry. Finance Minister Brian Lenihan said the initial reports would be done by the end of May with the commission of inquiry up and running by the end of June to report in six months.
When the commission completes its report, the Oireachtas will be "invited to consider the findings". The inquiry will not disturb the ongoing investigation by the Garda Fraud Squad and the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement into Anglo Irish Bank.
The Government is modelling the inquiry on the Murphy commission but it started out with a timeline of 18 months and reported back after three years.
Mr Lenihan was quite defensive of this decision last night, as he insisted he had already put all the information on those decisions in the public domain. "Government policy in response to the crisis is not being examined in this inquiry," he said.
Environment Minister John Gormley insisted there was no doubt an Oireachtas committee would have the power to compel anybody to appear before it.
"This is our clear intention. It will take place in public," he said.
Despite the Greens' demands for an open investigation in recent days, Mr Gormley said the format for the inquiry was the "perfect template".
He added: "Every box has been ticked here because certainly what I have been saying all along is it has to be effective, have a timeframe and involvement by the Oireachtas."