Lise Hand

Thursday 31 July 2014

Joe's raring to use bumbling banking inquiry to sink his fangs into old foes

Lise Hand

Published 18/06/2014|02:30

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Joe Higgins
Joe Higgins

THERE may have been eggs frying on the sun-soaked plinth of Leinster House, but temperatures were running a little high inside the building also.

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The Technical Group were in conclave. It should've been a short meeting, simply a procedural rubber-stamp of Joe Higgins's candidacy to replace Stephen Donnelly on the banking inquiry committee, as the Socialist Party TD's nomination was unopposed.

But Joe's former comrade, Clare Daly, took exception to the notion that her one-time ally had been selected unanimously by the group. A bemused John Halligan asked if she was opposing the choice, but the Dublin North deputy wasn't. However, she was objecting to the use of the 'unanimous' word.

A lengthy wrangle ensued but in the end – as planned all along – Joe was selected unopposed in a sort-of unanimous way.

What is it about this infernal banking inquiry which seems to spark more shemozzles than the Football Championship?

First it came to pass (eventually) that the Government announced it would hold an official inquisition into how our banking sector scampered over the cliffs like a cartoon roadrunner. It was surely a no-brainer, providing an admiring electorate with the edifying spectacle of all sorts of toppled masters of the financial and political universe being summoned to account for their movements in front of a democratically selected cross-party committee of gimlet-eyed TDs and senators.

What could possibly go wrong?

Having proved themselves in recent months to be experts at the art of porcine couture (the ability to fashion a sow's ear out of a silk purse), the Coalition didn't disappoint this time either. A serious outbreak of faffing about by government senators led to them losing their majority on the committee – a cock-up which the Coalition promptly compounded by drafting in two extra Fine Gael and Labour recruits to restore the status quo, thereby causing opposition uproar in the Upper House.

And this hoohah led to Independent TD Stephen Donnelly throwing a strop over the inequity of it all and throwing his hat at it, declaring the Taoiseach was "treating democracy in a cavalier manner" as he headed for the door.

Enter Joe Higgins.

Out on the plinth after the Technical Group pow-wow, the newest kid on the committee block was doing his damnedest not to lick his chops in anticipation of another chance to sink his fangs into some old foes.

"I am sure that the Taoiseach who was in charge of the country when the property bubble was being blown up, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, will be brought before the inquiry," Joe reckoned with relish. "And that Taoiseach Cowen, who presided over the initial bailout, and I also believe that Taoiseach Kenny, who continued the bailout, should be among those who would be called."

He was clearly raring to get started, and while he may not have the in-depth knowledge of banking arcana like financial whizz-kid Stephen Donnelly, Joe has a PhD in winding up the great and the good.

"I am prepared to sit and to quiz and question in the inquiry those individuals who were central to the political and economic events of the time, and interrogate them very strenuously," he vowed.

However, a short time later during Leaders' Questions, a gloomy Clare Daly was determined to rain on the committee's parade. "It's quite clear that the toothless banking inquiry is not going to expose anything, except maybe a few politicians to a bit of badly needed publicity," she sniped.

"It has dawned on many citizens now that the Oireachtas inquiry into banking has about as much chance of getting to the bottom of what happened in the banking sector as Billy Bunter would have in finding out who robbed the school tuck shop. It is a joke," she sneered.

Across the chamber the Taoiseach looked a bit weary. He must be fatigued from all his recent travelling (San Francisco, Guernsey and Lebanon) and recent U-turns (banking inquiry and discretionary medical cards). "I am glad to note the political policy regulatory structures on banking governance will be examined by the Oireachtas committee free of any direction from the Government," he began, before being drowned out by cackles from the far side.

Finian McGrath comforted Enda. "Don't worry – Joe will sort it out," he assured the Taoiseach.

There was agreement among the Opposition. But it wasn't unanimous.

Irish Independent

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