Wednesday 21 March 2018

Bank probe fails to land killer blow to FF that Government hoping for

Brian Cowen and Charlie McCreevy held up under Banking Inquiry questioning during the week
Brian Cowen and Charlie McCreevy held up under Banking Inquiry questioning during the week
John Downing

John Downing

Enda Kenny will insist that the Government had no "political agenda" in setting up the Banking Inquiry. He and his Government colleagues will dismiss suggestions that they were trying to "get Fianna Fáil" ahead of the next election.

That would be a hard one to argue on a good day. But when you consider two events - one in June 2013 and the other in June 2014 - you see that it is utterly impossible to sustain that argument for even a moment. And, worse again, when you consider the events of this week with appearances by Charlie McCreevy and Brian Cowen, you will see that Fianna Fáil remain largely unscathed.

In June 2013 the Irish Independent revealed the "Anglo Tapes," which detailed a series of recorded candid conversations involving senior executives at Ireland's most infamous bank. In a subsequent Dáil debate the Taoiseach, by then more than two years in office, was asked about the lack of progress in setting up an inquiry into the Irish banking collapse which was central to the economic crash of 2008 and which triggered six years of deep recession.

Mr Kenny replied that a banking inquiry would soon be established and it had a special mission: "The victims are the tens of thousands of families, ordinary people around the country, who became victims of the axis of collusion between Anglo Irish Bank and Fianna Fáil and bankers in general in order to inflate the property business," the Taoiseach told the Dáil on June 26, 2013.

The Taoiseach's deeply tribal and partisan "axis of collusion" comments caused convulsions within Labour and did not augur well for the future inquiry's independent reputation.

Now, spool on one year to June 2014, when seven TDs had been chosen for the inquiry, to be chaired by Labour's Ciarán Lynch. There was a simple screw-up in choosing the two Seanad nominees and the Opposition managed to pull a fast one and get two of their people named on the list, instead of the expected two each from the Government and Opposition.

That would have left the inquiry committee without a government majority - something that could not be contemplated in Government Buildings. So, they went out of their way to extend the committee from nine to 11 members by adding two more Government senators. It left everyone asking: why do we need a Government majority on an "independent" committee?

These two little vignettes, coincidentally spaced 12 months apart, fuelled suspicions that the Government wanted to do something more than establish the facts behind the banking system collapse in autumn 2008, and learn any resultant lessons for the future. It has to be said that the timing of the inquiry, which will reach its peak just as the General Election campaign kicks off, also raised questions.

Here, the Government have grounds for pointing to the loss of the referendum on October 27, 2011, which would have empowered parliamentary inquiries, as throwing a spanner in the works. Special legislation had to be subsequently drafted to make this committee possible, and even at that its members have been left walking a legal tightrope.

These facts do explain the delay. But it still does not look great. At this point it is also worth noting the honest, dedicated work of the committee chairman, Ciarán Lynch, and his backup team. He has put in endless hours of work since last autumn aimed at establishing and sustaining a straight-up, non-partisan inquiry. And his six TD colleagues and four senators have cooperated fully with his efforts.

But even at that, there was some trepidation among Fianna Fáil ranks, and speculation among neutral observers, as two former kingpins of the 'Soldiers of Destiny', Charlie McCreevy and Brian Cowen, arrived to give evidence this week. Would this be the time the bank collapse kibosh was put on Fianna Fáil?

At their marathon evidence-giving on Wednesday and Thursday, neither McCreevy nor Cowen made the slightest effort to sugar-coat what they had to say. There is a bit to go yet as Cowen must come back next Wednesday to discuss the 'Taoiseach years'.

But we can safely predict that Fianna Fáil is not left carrying the can for the entire economic ruin of the Irish nation. We are not for one second left saying Fianna Fáil in government was blameless - far from it. They failed to ensure those handsomely paid to oversee the bank system did their jobs. They showed poor judgment in the projected image of relations with builders and bankers.

But what has emerged is much more nuanced and complex than Fianna Fáil driving the Irish people on a bus to the ruination terminus. It may be all too complex to pack a political punch, as hoped for at election time.

Irish Independent

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