Saturday 10 December 2016

Ahern and Rabbitte hit out at watchdog

Published 31/01/2016 | 02:30

Pat Rabbitte. Photo: Tom Burke
Pat Rabbitte. Photo: Tom Burke
Bertie Ahern. Photo: Mark Condren

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has claimed the Public Accounts Committee has acted like "a shower of wolves" under the chairmanship of John McGuinness.

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And Labour's Pat Rabbitte said the public spending watchdog went "off the rails" because of "grandstanding and exotic creatures wanting to display their plumage like Mary Lou and Shane Ross".

Speaking on Independent.ie's new political podcast 'The Frontbench', the two politicians criticised the way the Oireachtas committee was run, with Mr Ahern saying: "I know people, very personally, who were before the Public Accounts Committee in the last Dail ... how they were treated you wouldn't treat a dog. What it did to their health was massive."

Mr Ahern also gave his first reaction to the publication of the Banking Inquiry report, revealing that lawyers for that committee had warned him not to answer certain questions in advance of his appearance.

"It was a bit strange going into the committee and the first thing I had to do that day was meet the legal team on behalf of the committee and they told me what I couldn't say.

"But I said: 'I'm in here on trial, I got a lot of stick for the last number of years. Are you telling me I can't answer that?'

"And they said, 'well they are not allowed ask you', and I said 'well if they ask me I'm going to answer'," Mr Ahern said.

However, he said the committee did a good job and he does not believe Fianna Fail got off lightly in the report.

"Everyone feels their own responsibility for it, including myself. Regardless of what people's view is you feel your own responsibility to it."

Mr Rabbitte said that while the public hearings of the inquiry were useful, another referendum would have to be held to give the Oireachtas more powers of investigation.

"We have to admit that we have reached an impasse in terms of inquiries," he said.

"We can't have inquiry by parliamentary committee because even though somebody is manifestly responsible for cocking up regulation or management of a bank, you can't say that. I can say it outside but a parliamentary inquiry [can't]."

Referring to the PAC, Mr Rabbitte said that for the first time since 1922 the present committee "went off the rails".

"You were in danger if you were seen crossing the road from Buswells that someone might grasp you by the neck and bring you in and question you about something. That's not what it was supposed to be about," he said, adding that the chairman, Fianna Fail's John McGuinness, had to take responsibility for that.

Former Fine Gael minister Nora Owen agreed, saying: "When John McGuinness took over the chair he kind of made it his own and he was in rows with his own party as well so he decided to make a big thing and he became a kind of prima donna in there. Of course he had a few other prima donnas on the committee that allowed him to do that and aided and abetted him."

Responding to the comments, Mr McGuinness told the Sunday Independent: "I'm satisfied with the PAC and the manner in which I chaired it.

"I'm not going to take any lectures from two politicians who are sitting on the sidelines now. They became so institutionalised in the Dail they forgot the people they represent. They are more concerned about their own egos."

Sunday Independent

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