Thursday 22 March 2018

Banking inquiry will focus on run-up to guarantee

Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen
Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen

THE long-awaited banking inquiry will focus on the period leading up to the €440bn state bank guarantee introduced by the previous Fianna Fail-led Government.

Although it may examine what happened shortly after the guarantee was introduced, its remit is not expected to extend to the banking policy decisions made by the current Government.

It will be carried out by the Oireachtas Finance committee and is expected to call former Taoiseach Brian Cowen, former Financial Regulator Patrick Neary and senior banking executives to give evidence in public about their actions.

The inquiry could be up and running early in the New Year once preparatory work has been carried out – and its hearings are expected to be televised.

No time limit has yet been decided but the public hearings are expected to take less than a year.

And by law, the inquiry has to conclude before the end of the Government's term in 2016.

The banking inquiry is expected to be given access to the "Anglo Tapes" revealed by the Irish Independent, as well as other recordings from AIB, Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB.

All of these banks have agreed to preserve their recordings at the request of Finance Minister Michael Noonan so they can be made available to the banking inquiry.

But the inquiry will be zoning in on the events leading up to the state bank guarantee in September 2008.

It will also examine the role of bankers who were in charge at the time, and the auditors who signed off on accounts for the banks. And the inquiry will look at the role of state institutions such as the Financial Regulator, the Central Bank and the Department of Finance.

The Government is insisting that it is up to the Dail to decide which committee will carry out the inquiry and what its terms of reference will be. But it has already laid out its requirements for what the inquiry should look into. And the decision has already effectively been made to give it to the Oireachtas Finance Committee chaired by Labour TD Ciaran Lynch.


Labour has stated that this is its preferred committee – and Fine Gael has not objected.

It means that the Dail's Public Accounts committee – which carried out the famous DIRT investigation – is going to be bypassed.

The Government does not wish to have the inquiry directed by the committee's chairman, Fianna Fail TD John McGuinness.

In the Dail, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the Government would ensure that the banking inquiry was adequately resourced and would have the full co-operation of all state institutions.

"The objective should be to determine without fear or favour and with dispassion and integrity all of the true material facts and the material circumstances that led to the collapse of the banking sector which continues to cause profound hardship, loss and suffering to people," he said.

Mr Kenny referred to the fact that criminal trials related to the banking collapse were soon due to take place. He said it was his earnest hope that TDs would use their important powers and solemn responsibilities "prudently and exercised judiciously" while carrying out the banking inquiry.

The inquiry will not have the power to directly blame any individuals when compiling its report and can only lay out a factual version of events.

The Opposition have warned that a Dail banking inquiry could still be overly politicised. But a government source said: "If anyone is engaging in showboating, they will have to leave the inquiry."

The Oireachtas Finance Committee is due to hold a special meeting of its 13 members next week to discuss how it will carry out the banking inquiry.

Mr Lynch, who chairs the committee, said he was mindful of the need to have clear terms of reference, a clear time frame and a representative team drawn from the committee's 13 members.

He also said that he expected the inquiry's public examinations of witnesses to be televised.

The Oireachtas Finance Committee will have to get permission from the Dail's Committee on Procedures and Privileges to set it up.

This committee, which has a government majority, will then make its recommendation to the Dail and seek approval from all TDs

The Government is promising that the inquiry will be given an adequate budget.

A government spokesman said that the Coalition's intention was to set it up "sooner rather than later".

By Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

Irish Independent

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