Loose lips could sink bank probe, TDs warned
TDs have been issued with an unprecedented legal warning not to jeopardise the banking inquiry with loose comments about bankers.
For the first time ever in the 95-year history of the Dail, the parliament's top officials have begun a series of special precautionary briefings with deputies and senators from all political parties and political groupings.
The officials, including the parliamentary legal adviser, are explaining the need to avoid all statements which could prejudice the forthcoming inquiry, as well as requirements for fair procedures.
The series of meetings, aimed at minimising expected court challenges, began on Tuesday night with the Fine Gael TDs and senators and will include all parties in the coming weeks.
The senior officials will also be available to individual TDs and senators for one-on-one advice sessions.
The move comes at the request of the Dail Committee on Procedure and Privileges, headed by Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett.
Politicians last night stressed that the exercise is completely non-party political.
It involves the acting secretary general of the Houses of the Oireachtas, Peter Finnegan, and parliamentary legal adviser, Ramona Quinn, and a senior administrative official, Patricia Doran.
Confirming the meeting with Fine Gael on Tuesday, party chairman Charlie Flanagan described it as "a most useful exercise".
He stressed that the officials refused to deal with any party political questions. "They laid out ground rules for avoiding prejudicial comments and the requirements for fair procedures and fair practice in the inquiry," the Fine Gael chairman said.
However, the veteran TD conceded that, while TDs and senators will be on best behaviour from now on, there remains a problem of many politicians' previous scathing commentary on the banking system.
"All except the most mild-mannered TDs and senators have said critical things about the banks in recent years. In fact, you could say the same thing about the Irish people generally," Mr Flanagan said.
TDs have already taken the first decision towards paving the way for the parliamentary inquiry with a package of changes to Dail rules.
However, there is still no concrete agreement on how the committee of inquiry will be made up, who will chair it, and the complex set of regulations which will govern its day-to-day workings.
The committee must also work out what technical and legal advice and administrative back-up it requires.
Most feel that at least some of this expertise will inevitably have to be 'bought in' from consultants – leaving them open to the criticisms they have made of other organisations.