Lights, camera, action for the the inquiry without bankers
Shane Ross scripts the drama we've all been waiting for – but, spoiler alert, the ending makes some pretty grim reading
The scene: the dungeons of Leinster House. Date: January 2016. The Banking Inquiry.
Chairman: May I introduce myself? I have been chosen by the Labour Party to replace my colleague, poor Ciaran Lynch TD. He was unfortunate enough to have been judged too outspoken to continue. He made a few damning remarks about bankers when chairman of the Finance Committee. The beaks in the Four Courts said he had to go. So here I am.
Fianna Fail member: Good, so chairman, what do you know about banking?
Labour Chair: Absolutely zilch. Never uttered a word about it in my 25 years in the Dail. Indeed, I never uttered a word about anything much. I am told that is why I got the gig.
Fine Gael member: You seem perfect. No banking bias. Can I suggest a change in the agenda.
Chair: Of course.
FG member: This inquiry is 18 months in existence. We have spent much of that time down in the Four Courts. We have lost and replaced eight of our nine members due to successful court challenges on the grounds of past statements or bias. We have not yet interviewed a single banker. Could we now try the politicians?
Independent Senator: May I introduce myself? I am here replacing Richard Boyd Barrett. Their lordships disqualified Richard and all independent TDs on bias grounds.
So here I am, a humble senator. But hold it. Surely we cannot call politicians to account just before the general election. They will be butchered. Or can we?
FG member: Of course we can. We are above politics. And what is your area of expertise?
Independent: Chimpanzees. I am the world's greatest living expert on the mating habits of chimps. I was nominated by the Taoiseach. He said I was ideal for this inquiry. I have never spoken on anything else in the Senate.
Labour Chair: How prescient of our leader, but my FG colleague's suggestion that we focus on our peers is constructive. This will be the acid test of our credibility. We must hold a few transparent, public sessions in front of th RTE cameras. We will only call a few selected politicians. No need for any of those not in power at the time of the bank guarantee. Let us call former Taoisigh Brian Cowen and Bertie Ahern. They could respond to all the stuff we have heard from regulators Pat Neary and John Hurley. We could throw the book at them.
Labour chair: Out of the question. Their time in office is way outside our remit.
FF member: I cannot agree to this disgraceful stroke. You will not achieve consensus on that. Remember all the lofty aspirations you championed. You promised to leave party politics behind you when you joined the inquiry. You promised that your past opinions would be discarded. Political bias was to go out the door along with your views on banking.
FG member: (mutters) And if you believed that. . .
We do not need consensus. Our riding instructions are to bring the two Taoisigh in here before the election. We will use compulsory powers to arraign them if you resist. Their evidence is crucial.
FF member: We will refuse to take part in the inquiry. We will expose it for the sham it is. We will unite the parliamentary opposition to this stunt. Sinn Fein will join with us and the independents to destroy this stitch-up.
Sinn Fein member: Er, er . . . Do not count on it.
Labour chair: So that is agreed? Bertie appears in January, Brian Cowen in February? We will then have to adjourn for the general election in March.
A vote is taken. A FF, SF and Independent amendment to include Noonan and Kenny as witnesses is defeated by 5-4.
Cries of "outrageous" from Opposition TDs.
Labour chair: Do not excite yourselves. Listen to me. We have resolved to be fair. This tribunal – sorry inquiry – is determined to give true balance. Even though there is an election looming, we have sought to limit the damage to all political parties from any association with past banking ghosts. We will hold a special public session in early March with a star witness. To assuage your fears of bias we will give the stage to your most articulate advocate, to your biggest electoral asset, to a member of the Cabinet on the night of the bank guarantee. No one deserves this chance to set the record straight, to repair any fallout from Bertie or Brian's evidence, more than Micheal Martin, leader of Fianna Fail. We are going to allot a whole week to Micheal.
FG member: And in deference to fair play, we have determined that neither our leader, Enda Kenny, nor Michael Noonan will be given any right of reply to Micheal Martin. There will be no opportunity for playing politics with this tribunal – sorry inquiry.
Labour Chair: And when we resume, after the election, we can start inviting bankers into the banking inquiry – that is if we think that we still need them.