Friday 31 October 2014

Finding suitably qualified bodies for bank inquiry will be major headache

Published 23/01/2014 | 02:30

'WANTED: senior politician with a good grasp of finance and banking. Keen powers of concentration and analysis are vital. Note: Must have spent the past five years under a large rock with no access to any kind of media."

That is how an advertisement for members of the new Oireachtas Committee of Inquiry Into the Banking Collapse of autumn 2008 might read.

The key dilemma will be how to find committee members – be they TDs or senators – who have not spoken about the banks in the past in such a way that would leave them open to allegations of bias.

"Sure anyone who hasn't spoken harshly about the banks very probably would not have been elected to Leinster House," one veteran backbencher summed up.

After a meeting of the Dail Committee on Procedures and Privileges last night, to review the rule changes necessary to set up the long-awaited banking inquiry, it became additionally clear that the Government is keen to see a start is made on this inquiry before the summer recess.

All signs are now that this inquiry committee will get started by the May deadline now being signalled. But what happens after that is very unsure.

Received wisdom at Leinster House for several months now has been that the Public Accounts Committee, headed by Fianna Fail TD John McGuinness of Kilkenny, would not get the job.

Fingers were pointing at Cork Labour TD, Ciaran Lynch, who heads the finance committee but nothing has been decided yet.

The formal position remains that a number of committees could actually 'pitch' to take on the role.

But the most likely prospect is of a special subcommittee being formed to do the job under the watchful gaze of the Committee on Procedures and Privilege.

The inquiry committee will be backed with legal advice from a team headed by a senior counsel and an experienced accountant, heading an expert banking advisory team.

The inquiry cannot make findings against an individual and must at all costs avoid prejudicial comment on the expected trial of former Anglo Irish Bank executives expected to start soon.

But Fianna Fail also has grounds to fear that political bias risks coming out of any inquiry. Last June the Taoiseach himself, while emphasising the need for this banking inquiry, spoke of an "axis of collusion" between the last Fianna Fail government and Anglo Irish Bank bosses.

Mr Kenny reminded us that the first segment of the inquiry would examine events leading to the Fianna Fail-led Government's bank guarantee decision of September 30, 2008.

Yesterday Fianna Fail enterprise spokesman Dara Calleary repeated his party's belief that an independent inquiry should be established under the aegis of a judge, possibly assisted by senior politicians.

But that is one thing which definitely will not happen.

We are now looking at a parliamentary inquiry, which might yet be difficult to keep away from many legal snares.

Irish Independent

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