Thursday 23 March 2017

Cowen to escape public grilling over bank crisis

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

TAOISEACH Brian Cowen would avoid a public grilling over his supervision of the banking sector as Finance Minister under government proposals for a secret inquiry.

But the Green Party will insist to Fianna Fail today that "significant elements" of the investigation into the banking crisis must be in public.

The junior coalition partners' leader, Environment Minister John Gormley, will meet with Mr Cowen this afternoon to outline his party's view.

Fine Gael last night accused Fianna Fail of wanting this issue off the table because the party was "inextricably linked" with the banking collapse.

Mr Cowen has previously denied he was personally blocking an inquiry into the banking crisis to avoid his role in the affair being exposed.

But the coalition appears on the brink of deciding that the inquiry will be held behind closed doors.

Pressure

The Cabinet will formally discuss its position tomorrow following a month of pressure to establish an investigation. Despite several reports at the weekend that the inquiry into the banks will be held in private, Government sources claimed no decision had been taken.

The Government appears to be opting for a commission of inquiry, which would still have the power to hold some public hearings, but would be unlikely to do so.

There are concerns within Government that public hearings could jeopardise potential court cases against bankers.

"The biggest consideration is there is a fraud inquiry ongoing into Anglo Irish Bank. The Government will not be minded to do anything that could jeopardise that," a source said.

"You don't have the Starr Chamber, but the public would never forgive you if you let somebody off the hook."

Government Chief Whip Pat Carey left the door open for some public hearings, without definitively saying the inquiry wouldn't be held in private.

"We are not excluding anything this stage," he said on RTE's 'The Week In Politics'.

If the Government was to set up a private inquiry, the Taoiseach would not have to appear in public to answer questions. Mr Cowen would, in effect, be the star witness at any public hearings if the demands for an Oireachtas inquiry were agreed.

The Taoiseach was Finance Minister from September 2004 to April 2008 -- just before the crisis began.

Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore said the inquiry could not be swept under the carpet. "We need to have a public inquiry into the banking system, not some secret inquiry," he said.

Irish Independent

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