Comment

Thursday 21 August 2014

Never mind truth, the bank probe was always political

The Government is playing games over the forthcoming inquiry that will harm it in the long run.

Willie Kealy

Published 08/06/2014 | 02:30

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John McGuinness, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee
John McGuinness, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee

IT was always going to be political, this banking inquiry. Since Enda Kenny announced in the Dail a year ago that an Oireachtas committee would be given the task of finding out just what happened to make our banks and our entire financial system collapse, we have known how it was intended to end up.

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The first clue was Enda's declaration that the purpose of this inquiry would be to expose "the axis of collusion between ... Fianna Fail and the bankers in order to inflate the property business".

Then there was the whole palaver over which committee would carry out the inquiry. It became obvious very quickly that the Government wanted it chaired by anyone but the straight talking, no-nonsense, John McGuinness, who also happens to be Fianna Fail.

His committee would seem the obvious one for the job, but he found himself in competition with the Finance Committee chaired by Ciaran Lynch, the Labour deputy from Cork.

Then the Government saw another way around McGuiness; it would set up a new committee with a new chairman – Ciaran Lynch, the Labour deputy from Cork!

So the stage was set. There would be a nice, long, public political inquiry, ostensibly into the banks, but actually into what the Taoiseach called, "the (FF-led) Government that allowed the culture (of light touch regulation) to function".

This would see the likes of Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen brought before the committee for a good grilling between now and the next General Election, which is scheduled for the Spring of 2016. The whole exercise will be a permanent, almost daily, reminder of how awful Fianna Fail was and how lucky we are that Fine Gael (and Labour) came along just in time to rescue us.

You would think that would be enough. But no, when it comes to keeping Fianna Fail firmly in its sights, this is a belt and braces Government. So they tried to make sure the Government would not only have the chair of the committee, but a majority.

Committees are supposed to be non-political, so each party picks its own nominee(s) and then they get on with the job in a non-partisan way.

We have seen it happen in Oireachtas committees before, deputies and senators from different parties working well together for a common purpose – that of establishing the facts. Fianna Fail proposed Senator Marc MacSharry.

The Government decided it would try to dictate the two positions available to the Seanad and, along with Labour Senator, Susan O'Keeffe, put forward the name of Sean Barrett, the Independent Trinity professor.

Professor Barrett would be an excellent addition to any committee, but if the Government really wanted him for his abilities, rather than just to stop Marc MacSharry, they could have substituted him for Senator O'Keeffe.

Labour is in a bit of disarray at the moment, what with trying to pick a new leader to reassert its position in government and two Labour senators failed to turn up for the selection vote; SenatorLorraine Higgins and Senator O'Keeffe herself.

So MacSharry and Barrett became the Seanad nominees. This must have caused some sort of seismic shock in Government Buildings, because the very next day, Fine Gael's Seanad leader, Maurice Cummins, went into the chamber and accused MacSharry of a conflict of interest which would disqualify him from committee membership.

He didn't say what this was and he eventually withdrew it, so nobody really knows what he was talking about. He might have been referring to the fact that MacSharry once had a job in a bank.

Maybe he meant MacSharry once guaranteed a tiny portion (1.5 per cent) of a loan to a company he had a small shareholding in – but all that money has been paid back. He might have been referring to Marc's father, Ray MacSharry, who was appointed a public interest bank director by the late Brian Lenihan. But if there was anything wrong with that, why did Michael Noonan subsequently re-appoint him?

Most likely he wasn't talking about anything relevant at all, he was just hoping MacSharry would go away. But he won't, so now the Government seems intent on subverting what little democracy there has been in this process so far and forcing the selection committee to vote again. This time, with no Labour no-shows.

We are not going to get a proper banking inquiry. Oireachtas committees are prohibited from holding non-public office holders to account, nor can it make findings of fact adverse to the good name of any person who is not a member of the Oireachtas or who cannot be held responsible to the Oireachtas.

We could have changed that in a referendum but we decided not to, though a recent Sunday Independent/Millward Brown poll suggests we would now if we got another chance. Bankers and many others involved in our economic collapse are covered by this privilege.

In America all their internal emails and phone transcripts and texts would have been up on the internet within weeks of collapse, but we don't do things that. So basically we will have a committee let loose to tear the tripes out of the members of the last Fianna Fail government. Which suits Fine Gael down to the ground because it sees the choice at the next election as between itself and Fianna Fail.

What it doesn't see, despite the result of the local and European elections and the latest opinion polls, is the rising threat of Sinn Fein. What it doesn't seem to grasp either is that the next election could be a lot sooner than they think. So they are concentrating all their fire in one direction. Which suits Sinn Fein.

The more the two large centre parties tear themselves apart, the better, from its point of view. So if the Government does try to arbitrarily oust MacSharry and re-run that election, don't be surprised if Gerry Adams and co give it their full cynical backing. Because that's politics.

And this has been political from the start.

Sunday Independent

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