Taoiseach pledges to testify at economic crisis probe
TAOISEACH Brian Cowen last night pledged to give evidence to an Oireachtas committee's inquiry into the economic crash -- and to provide all possible documentation.
His assurance came as members of the Oireachtas Finance Committee said they wanted him to appear, so that he could give the context of the decisions he made as Finance Minister from 2004 to 2008 and as Taoiseach.
Mr Cowen promised to make himself available and to supply any documentation that was not protected by cabinet confidentiality.
"Of course, the Taoiseach of the day is available to meet with the committee when you make a decision on how you want to proceed," he said.
The committee's inquiry will focus on the economic policy pursued by Mr Cowen in the run-up to the property crash.
This will include the property tax breaks that Mr Cowen has claimed that he closed off in 2006. But the Regling and Watson financial report made clear that many of these tax breaks did not close down until 2008.
Fine Gael's deputy finance spokesman, Kieran O'Donnell, said the committee would want to know the advice given to Mr Cowen and examine the judgments and decisions he took.
Mr Cowen asked Mr O'Donnell, who is awaiting the announcement of the Fine Gael frontbench after he publicly opposed Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, to stop interrupting him.
"I know it's been a difficult week for people but let's just keep it calm here. I just thought your demeanour was a bit glum this week," he joked.
Mr Cowen was giving details of spending estimates for this year at the Department of the Taoiseach, which has seen its staff numbers decrease from 212 to 198, due to the public sector recruitment embargo.
Fine Gael TD Sean Barrett suggested that one way for the State to save more money would be to scrap the Oireachtas Commission, which runs the Dail and Seanad, and cut the number of Oireachtas committees to just eight.
"We have a ridiculous situation of about 24 to 28 committees spreading resources very thinly and not able to do the work properly. We don't need all these committees," he said.
Labour's finance spokeswoman Joan Burton told Mr Cowen that he could have followed the Oireachtas Commission's recommendation to cut the number of committees from 22 to 15.
Mr Cowen replied that this was part of a wider need for Dail reform.
"The question of Dail reform is something we all agree to in principle but when we get down to the practice of it, it usually means from an opposition point of view how they can get more improvements from their side of the fence and from the Government's side, how we can get our programme through," he said.