Monday 20 November 2017

These tapes are just the tip of the iceberg – we need a proper inquiry

An Occupy Dame Street protester outside the former Anglo Irish headquarters on St Stephen's Green, Dublin in 2012
An Occupy Dame Street protester outside the former Anglo Irish headquarters on St Stephen's Green, Dublin in 2012

ORDINARY Irish people are crying out for a definitive account of the near collapse of our financial system.

Judging from the hundreds of you who rang, texted and emailed this office, the expose has hit a raw national nerve.

There are hundreds of thousands who are unemployed, 300,000-plus have emigrated in the past four years alone, and one-in-four mortgage holders are struggling to keep their homes. All are united in anger.

But is it in the interest of the State, which has been very fortunate that its citizens have not yet taken to the streets – or worse – to reveal what really happened in our banks and the corridors of power as the financial system teetered on the brink in 2008?

The publication of the Anglo recordings confirms our worst suspicions about the arrogance of bankers: the language and tone of the conversation between the two executives sparks rage. It is one thing thinking you know the broad story, but it is quite another to be drawn into the drama, to literally hear a snapshot of what unfolded in those fateful weeks in the autumn of 2008.

Snapshots will not appease taxpayers who are hugely frustrated by the failure to hold the system in general and individuals in particular to account.

There have been no less than three inquiries to date, but not one named a single person as culpable for the mess.

A cynic might suggest that the 2011 Oireachtas Inquiries referendum, the supposed pre-requisite for a banking inquiry, was bound to fail.

The public wanted an inquiry, but not political show trials which cast doubt on whether people would be able to vindicate their rights in the courts if politicians breached them.

In the absence of a banking inquiry, it is the courts that have shone a light on the circumstances leading to the collapse of Anglo and the bank guarantee.

It is hard to give the family of jailed businessman Sean Quinn an ounce of credit in this debacle. Ironically, however, it is the Quinn family's civil pursuit of Anglo in the courts that has provided the public with a proxy banking inquiry.

Significantly, the Central Bank (successor to the regulator) and the Department of Finance are resisting court moves to join the State as defendants in the Quinn proceedings.

With the nationalisation and subsequent liquidation of Anglo, politicians hoped the legacy of the bank would be buried under a €60bn injection of taxpayers' money.

But perhaps the handwringers in the Oireachtas know that a full, frank and efficient banking inquiry would do more than generate accountability, potential prosecutions or international shame.

A well-run inquiry would provide a fuller context for debating the injustice of austerity, a move that no government – not least one with several more hairshirt Budgets to implement – would show much enthusiasm for.

Irish Independent

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