Sunday 25 September 2016

Dáil privilege to be discussed at last . . . in the Dáil

Published 08/06/2015 | 02:30

Mr Kenny indicated that he had chosen to stand back from court deliberations of the previous days until a verdict emerged
Mr Kenny indicated that he had chosen to stand back from court deliberations of the previous days until a verdict emerged

It was an era when many of us - this writer included - tried to blame the printers, sometimes rightly and sometimes wrongly, for various mishaps.

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Up at Leinster House the printers were traditionally used as the alibi for TDs not returning until the Wednesday of a week in which a bank holiday fell. The story went that the printers just could not horse out all those order papers, agendas and other documentation needed to prime those parliamentary guff sessions, in time for a Tuesday afternoon session.

There was an air of mystery about whose idea it was for the national parliament to shut for the entire week last week. It was not mid-term or any one of a variety of holidays or high-days.

In the normal course of events nobody would have commented very much at what amounted to a sneaky week off. But as things turned out, the Oireachtas members' rights to say things under privilege were to the forefront of proceedings in the High Court. Opposition urgings for a recall were brushed aside as "playing to the gallery".

When the Taoiseach himself finally addressed the matter last Thursday, a week after the issue burst into prominence, he was at his dismissive best.

Mr Kenny defended his week-long silence in the row over Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC), businessman Denis O'Brien, and the High Court hearings over the extent of privilege in reporting Dáil proceedings. He indicated that he had chosen to stand back from court deliberations of the previous days until a verdict emerged.

"There was a lot of hysteria about recalling the Dáil to discuss something over which the Dáil had no control," Mr Kenny blithely told reporters.

The Taoiseach, who on November 14 will celebrate 40 solid years as a TD, is right to say he supports the rights of parliament. His impatience at some opposition showboating is also in some ways understandable because "recall the Dáil" calls are often used and a debased coinage.

But ultimately, this time the Taoiseach was wrong to be so dismissive about the need for a Dáil debate. On this occasion, the courts returned a day earlier than scheduled - and delivered their verdict largely in favour of Dáil privilege and ultimately the rights of the voters who choose our TDs.

Dáil Éireann should have been recalled last week to debate an issue of fundamental importance for all citizens. For once, the call merited a positive response. It was no political cant.

But the Dáil is back tomorrow and the Government has already moved to defuse things by establishing a Commission of Inquiry into how the State-owned IBRC dealt with the 40 biggest heavy-hitters who had owed money to the least-loved institution in this State's history, Anglo Irish Bank.

The position we have reached is also unusual. The Government will appoint a senior judge to investigate the operations of a peculiar sort-of state bank, which was really a debt resolution agency, and was specifically set up by the Government to deal with the fall-out of the bank and business collapse of 2008.

IBRC chairman Alan Dukes and chief executive Mike Aynsley have been busy putting their story out there. For quite some time, Mr Dukes has argued that the Department of Finance officials wanted to be able to influence the operation, but were less keen on biting the bullet and taking the hard decisions he and his colleagues were confronted with.

Yesterday, Mr Aynsley was talking to the 'Sunday Independent' and other newspapers. He said IBRC had to write off up to €1bn - and his point that comparable things happened in the other beleaguered banks has a clear ring of truth.

More than other such inquiries, this one is needed to put a political lid on a boiling pot. That is what will make a series of meetings today between Finance Minister Michael Noonan and key opposition TDs quite interesting.

The Minister is seeking their agreement to draft terms of reference, which he published last Wednesday evening when he announced this Commission of Inquiry would be set up. The time-scale of this inquiry is enmeshed with these terms.

So far there have been contradictory calls from the opposition. They want assurances this inquiry can be concluded ahead of a General Election which could happen before the year is out. But they also want the inquiry terms of reference widened to take in other issues.

We can expect overdue fiery exchanges in the Dáil chamber. But the objective for the Government is very clear for the remainder of this week: get this Commission of Inquiry up and running.

Once that is done, they will hope that the heat can be taken out of this business. The inquiry cannot produce a result this side of a general election.

Enda Kenny knows he can bank on that.

Irish Independent

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