Sunday 18 February 2018

Cowen will not volunteer to answer questions in public

Fionnan Sheahan, Fiach Kelly and Patricia McDonagh

TAOISEACH Brian Cowen yesterday declined to volunteer to give his evidence to the commission of investigation into the banking crisis in public.

Mr Cowen also confirmed the banking inquiry won't look into the Government's decisions on rescuing the financial institutions since September 2008.

The cut-off point means it is unclear if the bank guarantee scheme will be included in the remit of the investigation.

But the subsequent decisions to first recapitalise and then nationalise Anglo Irish Bank definitely will not be included. And the recapitalisation of Allied Irish Banks and the Bank of Ireland will certainly be left off the agenda of the inquiry.

Mr Cowen said all the Government's decisions have been debated already.

"We have made it clear that the purpose of this inquiry is to look into the background and causes of the problem, not the decisions we have taken to get us out of the problem," he said.

Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore protested against the bank guarantee scheme and subsequent decisions not being included in the inquiry.

The law behind the inquiry allows witnesses to ask for their testimony to be heard in public.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny claimed Mr Cowen would never be questioned in public, as he would not be called before an Oireachtas committee chaired by a Fianna Fail TD.

He called on the Taoiseach to ask for his hearing to be held in public.

Mr Cowen said Mr Kenny was talking "patent nonsense" and called the commission of investigation proposal an "efficient and cost-effective method of inquiry whose independence is guaranteed".

The Taoiseach said it would be up to the commission to decide what way to conduct the inquiry and he would fully co-operate with it.

The Commissions of Investigation Act of 2004 allows the Government to set up a statutory inquiry, as is proposed for the probe into the failure of the banking system.

Witness

The act, which says most of the proceedings will be done in private, also says evidence can be given in public if a witness wants to do so.

"A commission shall conduct its investigation in private unless a witness requests that all or part of his or her evidence be heard in public and the commission grants the request," the act says.

The legislation also says evidence can be given in public if "the commission is satisfied that it is desirable in the interests of both the investigation and fair procedures to hear all or part of the evidence of a witness in public".

Although repeatedly pressed on this matter by Mr Kenny, Mr Cowen said he had "no problem dealing with these matters in any way", but did not specifically say if he would volunteer to give evidence in public.

Mr Cowen's evidence is seen as crucial to the credibility of any inquiry, as he was Finance Minister between 2004 and 2008 -- the period when the property bubble peaked.

Mr Kenny, who said the proposals do not take account of the public's anger, also asked if the evidence of the Taoiseach's predecessors, Bertie Ahern and former Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy, would be given in public.

Mr Cowen said the commission can "decide to meet in public in whatever way it wishes".

"I have no problem dealing with these matters in any way that enables me to deal with my public duties and discharge them publicly," he said.

The ten key questions see business section

Irish Independent

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