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Backbenchers don't have to worry

What a difference a fortnight makes. Since 2010 got under way, a phalanx of Fianna Fail TDs have taken to the airwaves to tell us that any inquiry into the banking crisis is likely to do two things: (a) erode international and domestic confidence in the Irish banking system and (b) distract hard-working officials from their core task of stabilising the banks.

Unfortunately for these vapid backbenchers, their own minister, Brian Lenihan, doesn't appear to agree. His statement released on Tuesday says the chief reason we needed an inquiry was "in order to restore international and domestic confidence in our banks''.

Also far from fatiguing and distracting our civil servants, the Finance Minister seems to believe they can comfortably manage additional work in the banking area.

So much so that the Government is now to commission two separate reports into the banking crisis, with both reports likely to involve extensive communication and inputs from those easily distractable civil servants.

Clearly the objections to any inquiry from the backbenchers were political in nature.

One presumes these people weren't looking forward to seeing Brian Cowen, their party leader, sitting in a star chamber having to explain why going into the first year of the financial crisis in 2007 he was increasing current spending by an astonishing 11.5pc as finance minister.

They were probably a little unnerved by the prospect of the former finance minister having to explain why in December 2007 he was reducing stamp duty and increasing mortgage interest relief in a last-ditch attempt to prop up the property market and indirectly prop up bank balance sheets.

Fortunately, Cowen's praetorian guard needn't have worried. The decision to set up a statutory Commission of Investigation into the effective collapse of the banking system here means political decision-making in the last years of the boom will not be forensically examined in public, whatever about in private.

After endless phone calls to radio stations and sombre warnings about the damage an inquiry could do the administrative capacity of the country, the fears of politicians have proven to be overstated.

Ultimately they needn't have worried, because nobody in high office is going to be losing too much sleep over a statutory Commission of Investigation which holds its proceedings in private.

Irish Independent