Saturday 25 October 2014

TDs running out of time to agree on bank probe rules

John Downing Political Correspondent

Published 23/01/2014 | 00:58

Ciaran Lynch: candidate
Ciaran Lynch: candidate

NEW rules governing the upcoming banking inquiry must be signed off on by TDs and senators within three weeks.

The Government is now determined that the parliamentary inquiry into the 2008 Irish banking system collapse will be up and running by May at latest.

After a meeting of the Dail Committee on Procedures and Privileges last night, it emerged that a decision has yet to be taken on what committee will head the inquiry.

“It is open to any of the relevant existing committees to seek to take on the task,” one source said.

But the expectation remains that a special sub-committee will be established for the task and a number of legal and banking experts will be provided to guide its technical work. 

Many politicians still believe that Cork Labour TD Ciaran Lynch, who currently heads the finance committee, will emerge as chairman.

The terms of reference, which will lay out the powers, as well as the limits on such powers, will be framed shortly. These will also provide the guidelines for treatment of inquiry witnesses.

It is already clear that the inquiry committee may not make adverse findings against any individual.

Committee members must be TDs or senators who have not made comments about the banks that would leave them open to claims of bias. 

They must also avoid any references which could be deemed prejudicial to the trial of former Anglo Irish Bank executives due to commence shortly.

Pedigree

Finding politicians who have not strongly criticised the banks and who have the necessary pedigree to contribute to the inquiry will be difficult. Officials last night said any potential members will have their comments over the past five years carefully assessed.

Fianna Fail repeated their fears that the parliamentary inquiry may suffer from political bias.

Its enterprise spokesman Dara Calleary repeated his party’s view that an inquiry should be headed by a judge, based on Britain’s Leveson Inquiry, which examined the ‘News of the World’ phone-hacking allegations in 2011 and 2012.

Mr Calleary said the British experience showed that an efficient, effective and reasonably priced investigation can be carried out in this way. “The legislation is already in existence to do just that in Ireland in case of the banking inquiry.”

With local and European elections due next May it is likely that the banking inquiry will not impact upon them to any great degree. 

But evidence reviving voters' unpleasant memories of the year 2008 could play to Fine Gael and Labour's favour ahead of a general election in spring 2016.

Veteran politicians at Leinster House concede, however, that any parliamentary inquiry risks facing legal challenges in the courts.

These could add considerably to the timescale, which makes expert legal advice imperative for the committee.

The gold standard for banking inquiries remains the 1999 Public Accounts Committee probe into the bank DIRT tax scandal headed by the late Fine Gael TD Jim Mitchell. This was informed by a ground-preparing inquiry by the Comptroller & Auditor General.

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