Donnelly snub as bank probe stakes raised for Taoiseach
TAOISEACH Enda Kenny has staked his political reputation on the line by refusing to row back on the Government's alleged attempt to control the outcome of the Banking Inquiry.
Mr Kenny is determined to push ahead with the new 11- member committee despite warnings that the inquiry has been fatally damaged before a single witness has been heard.
He has now appealed to Independent TD Stephen Donnelly to reconsider his decision to quit the group. The olive branch was quickly rejected by the Wicklow representative.
As the fiasco continued, senior government ministers tried to blame Fianna Fail.
But one Cabinet member, Labour's Pat Rabbitte, said he believed the whole affair had been "clumsily handled".
Following a highly damaging week for the Government, the row overshadowed Taoiseach Enda Kenny's trip to the Lebanon when he was prompted to ask Mr Donnelly to rejoin the committee.
The Wicklow deputy stepped down from the committee on Sunday in protest over what he believes is the Government's "crass and cynical decision" to control the outcome of the inquiry.
Mr Kenny pledged that members would be free to vote on inquiry matters independently and described Opposition claims that the committee would be forced to operate under a government mandate as "patently not true".
"So in that sense (and) given the fact the committee needs good people, perhaps Deputy Donnelly might reconsider his position," he told reporters.
However, Mr Kenny's plea was dismissed by Mr Donnelly last night who insisted that he would only return to the committee if the decision to appoint two new government senators was reversed.
"The only thing that matters is public trust and the only way public trust can be restored is the reversal of the appointments last week and restoring the committee's independence," he said.
The senators in question – Labour's Susan O'Keeffe and Fine Gael's Michael D'Arcy – are not prepared to step down from the committee.
"I was asked to do a job of work and I won't shirk responsibility," Mr D'Arcy told the Irish Independent last night.
"The Irish public have been saddled with €64bn in bank debt – this is an issue people seem to be forgetting about," he added. While Ms O'Keeffe did not return calls, Labour sources insisted she would not be stepping down.
Socialist TD Joe Higgins is expected to replace Mr Donnelly on the inquiry committee when the Technical Group meets today.
Technical Group chairman Finian McGrath said that while he supported Mr Donnelly's decision to withdraw from the panel, he would back Mr Higgins as his replacement.
"I have an open mind as to what we do as a committee but either way, I will be seeking a majority decision," he told the Irish Independent last night.
Meanwhile, senior cabinet ministers were left yesterday to defend the Taoiseach.
In response to Micheal Martin's claims that the public has lost confidence in the inquiry, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said Fianna Fail was against an inquiry taking place at all.
"Well I think that some people have an interest in making sure that there isn't a banking inquiry and I think first to the table on that is Fianna Fail, sure they don't want to have a banking inquiry at all," Mr Gilmore said.
Mr Martin's calls for a judge-led probe, similar to the Leveson Inquiry into press standards in the UK, were also rejected by Finance Minister Michael Noonan.