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Tuesday 23 September 2014

Whistleblowers to be first witnesses at bank inquiry

Published 27/07/2014 | 02:30

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Economist Morgan Kelly pictured in St. Canices Cathedral Kilkenny as part of the Kilkenny Arts festival.  Picture; GERRY MOONEY.   6/8/11
Economist Morgan Kelly

THE banking inquiry's first witnesses could be two of the most prominent whistleblowers on the dangers of the Celtic Tiger property boom.

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Former Department of Finance official Marie Mackle and the economist Morgan Kelly are being proposed as the first witnesses when the banking inquiry returns to business in September.

The Sunday Independent has learnt the suggestion was made by Independent Senator Sean Barrett at last week's private meeting of the Oireachtas committee inquiring into the banking crisis.

Though the proposal was received positively, the inquiry is already deeply divided on a number of key areas, despite its outward appearance of unity.

In an ironic twist, concern is particularly high that the inquiry into the banking collapse is itself "under capitalised" when it comes to the potential legal costs it faces.

An initial set of estimates on the likely costs of the inquiry pencilled in a provisional sum of €200,000. But committee members fear legal costs and delays will be far higher than anticipated.

"The first principle of legal costs is go forth and multiply. If this inquiry is taken on in the courts you will have to make a lot of savings on the costs of chairs to balance the books," a member said.

"The budget is operating on a wing and a prayer. There is a big black hole in our accounts called legal costs," another member warned.

A major divide is also escalating over the extensive nature of the terms of reference, which are now set to cover up to 20 years.

In particular, fears are growing that Fianna Fail will use these extended terms of reference to "run the inquiry into the sands before the next election". During sharp exchanges on this issue, at one point Fianna Fail was accused by one committee member of "trying to have an inquiry into every aspect of banking that has occurred since the Ark".

One inquiry source told the Sunday Independent: "The concern is growing that Fianna Fail's enthusiastic support for running the clock down is nothing more than an elaborate charade that will see the inquiry talk itself into a non conclusion."

However, Fianna Fail finance spokesman Micheal Mc Grath claimed his party's objective was to "get maximum value from the banking inquiry" by getting it into public session as quickly as possible. "No-one is more anxious than Fianna Fail to get bankers, regulators, politicians, professional advisers, civil servants and many more brought before the inquiry without delay," he said.

However, a source on the committee warned of clashes to come. "There has been no contention because we haven't had to decide anything yet. We're currently in nothing is agreed until everything is agreed mode. That will come in September and we will see then how the peace process holds."

Despite ruling himself out from serving on the banking inquiry, Independent TD Shane Ross could yet evolve as one of its stars.

Mr Barrett suggested the inquiry might "benefit substantially from hearing evidence from Ireland's top writers on the banking crash".

The senator's list might include the likes of Deputy Ross, Nick Webb, Brendan Keenan, Dan O'Brien, Marc Coleman, Karl Whelan, Cliff Taylor, Tom Lyons, David McWilliams and Matt Cooper.

Sunday Independent

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