Wednesday 21 March 2018

The Banking Inquiry should never even have considered Drumm's video link offer

Bankrupt David Drumm
Bankrupt David Drumm
Shane Coleman

Shane Coleman

Leave the legal advice out of it, the Banking Inquiry should have bluntly told David Drumm days ago to sling his hook and reject out of hand his offer to give evidence via video link from the US or by written statement.

It emerged yesterday that the inquiry's own lawyers and the DPP had strongly advised the inquiry against hearing evidence in this way from Drumm - in the process defusing a potential row among inquiry members.

But while the risk to ongoing investigations and court cases is obviously important, it should never have been the key determinant.

And it would be wrong of the Banking Inquiry to now shelter behind this legal advice.

This shouldn't be about the legal implications of hearing video-link evidence from the former Anglo boss. This is a straight choice between doing the right or the wrong thing.

Facilitating Drumm, a man who refuses to come back to this country to face the music, in this manner would be simply wrong.

Mostly in politics, despite how we in the media portray matters, things are not black or white, but grey. So while commentators and others may howl with indignation at, for example, a cut-back and denounce it as heartless austerity, the minister in question generally has to make savings somewhere and it's often a matter of choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea.

It's tempting to view the Drumm question for the Banking Inquiry in the same light. The argument has been that as chief executive of the bank that did most to bring about the banking collapse, he would add greatly to the inquiry's deliberations. He would help shine a light on the goings-on in Anglo and its relationships with government in 2007-08. And while it might be less than ideal to compromise and allow him to give evidence by video, the end would justify the means. It would enhance the inquiry.

But that form of moral equivocation would bring the inquiry into dangerous territory.

It was set up - we are told - to get to the truth of what happened and to ensure it never happens again.

But the truth is Mr Drumm is somebody who has continually declined to make himself available to the gardaí for questioning, instead opting to stay in the US at arm's reach from the authorities.

What signal would it send out if an inquiry, set up by the Oireachtas, were to effectively give a 'nod and a wink' to Drumm by allowing him to have his say, while remaining outside the reach of the law?

Regardless of the intention, such a move would be a de facto vindication of Drumm's decision to stay in the US and make himself unavailable to the gardaí. It would confer legitimacy on a man whose actions do not warrant such legitimacy. And it would bring the entire Oireachtas into disrepute.

There's no grey area here. The Oireachtas has to stand full-square behind the institutions of the State. And effectively sidelining, or going behind the back of the gardaí (even if carried out in plain sight), isn't doing that. Even if done for the best of intentions, it would still send a wholly wrong message that the gardaí or the courts could somehow be subverted, if it ultimately brought the right result. That can never be justified.

Incidentally, comparisons with Jean-Claude Trichet's question and answer session with the Banking Inquiry on neutral territory are fatuous. Mr Trichet may have been an ineffective head of the ECB, but he was not somebody who anybody ever wanted to talk to in relation to potential wrongdoing.

So regardless of the legal advice, the inquiry needs to make an unambiguous statement that it would have rebuffed Drumm's offer to give evidence, unless he was willing to present himself at Leinster House to do so.

The notion that Mr Drumm's testimony could be key to the inquiry is also somewhat dubious.

Are we seriously being asked to believe that its deliberations will hinge on whether banking was discussed at a dinner attended by Brian Cowen and Anglo board members in April 2008, as the former CEO apparently claims and Cowen denies?

As Pat Rabbitte pointed out at the inquiry last week, it beggars belief that, at the couple of social events where Cowen and Anglo figures crossed paths at that time, Cowen didn't ask what was going on at their bank. He certainly should have done. But given that Mr Drumm, to this day, still argues Anglo was solvent on the night of the guarantee, it's hard to believe there would have been anything worthwhile in the answer if he had.

Mr Rabbitte notably added that he believed that when the crash happened the former Taoiseach "did his best by his lights to do right by the country". Could somebody say the same about David Drumm, skulking in the US?

It's worth remembering that a US bankruptcy judge found statements made by Drumm were "replete with knowingly false statements, failures to disclose, efforts to misdirect and outright lies".

Mr Drumm apparently believes Anglo has taken "an unfair amount of blame for the crash". It's hard to see how a bank that cost the State almost €30bn (out of a predicted final net cost of the crash of €40bn) could take an "unfair amount of blame". And equally hard to believe that any appearance, via video link, by Drumm would be anything other than utterly self-serving.

Shane Coleman is the presenter of the Sunday Show at 10am on

Irish Independent

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