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Thursday 21 August 2014

Raft of TDs facing ban from new banking probe

Panel wants to prevent legal challenges over bias

Niall O'Connor and John Drennan

Published 22/01/2014 | 02:30

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Taoiseach Enda Kenny chats with street musician Brenda Molly after attending mass in Dublin city centre yesterday
Taoiseach Enda Kenny chats with street musician Brenda Molly after attending mass in Dublin city centre yesterday
Emmet Stagg, Labour deputy for Kildare North
Emmet Stagg, Labour deputy for Kildare North

POLITICIANS will have to pass a 'bias test' before they are allowed to sit on the banking inquiry to ensure that they haven't made prejudicial comments about those who might appear.

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A major change to the rules of the Oireachtas could see dozens of TDs banned from sitting on the inquiry committee, the Irish Independent has learned.

Any TD who has made prejudicial remarks about future witnesses are highly unlikely to be approved to conduct the probe.

"This is to ensure that there is no legal challenge. That nobody can make a complaint that a TD is biased against them," Labour Party Chief Whip Emmet Stagg told the Irish Independent.

The news comes as senior government sources confirmed that the inquiry is expected to be formally set up by May.

This means that there will be fresh focus on Fianna Fail's role in the banking collapse prior to the local and European Elections.

Government Chief Whip Paul Kehoe and senior Oireachtas officials held a briefing with other party whips on the developments last night.

Changes to the rules of the Oireachtas include:

* The inclusion of a bias test which will determine who sits on the inquiry team.

* The chairperson of the banking inquiry will be a member of the Dail and be selected by the Government.

* The inquiry team will be answerable to a separate committee known as the Committee of Privileges and Procedures (CPP).

* There will be further measures to ensure that the inquiry itself is not open to legal challenges.

This puts an end to speculation surrounding which Dail committee will be chosen to conduct the inquiry.

Both the Finance Committee and the Public Accounts Committee had expressed a desire for the inquiry to be brought under their remit.

Members of the respective committees may "make a case" to be selected to conduct the inquiry, however a new team answerable to the CPP will be put in place in the coming weeks.

The legislation governing the baking inquiry, known as the Inquiries Act, has already been passed.

However, further changes to the standing orders or rules of the House will be passed through the Dail by February 4.

While the Government insists that the banking inquiry will be established by May, it is likely that the inquiry committee will spend a number of months carrying out preparatory work.

MONTHS

It is not expected that witnesses will appear in front of the committee for many months.

Fianna Fail Chief Whip Sean O Fearghail told the Irish Independent that he believes the bias test will prove to be a "major challenge" for the political parties.

"The standard orders that come before CPP will address the issue of bias and (it will be) a major challenge for political parties to nominate people who will not run the risk of being accused of being bias," he said.

Mr Stagg said he believed it will be "very difficult" for the CPP to form the committee as a result of the bias test. But he said such a clause may be necessary so as to ensure there is no legal challenge.

Irish Independent

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