Thursday 22 August 2019

Government seeks to downplay IBRC inquiry concerns

The court proceedings deal with events at the Anglo-Irish Bank
The court proceedings deal with events at the Anglo-Irish Bank

David Kearns

The Government has sought to downplay concerns that the inquiry investigating the controversial sale of Siteserv to businessman Denis O’Brien lacks sufficient power to probe transactions at IBRC.

Commission Chairman Mr Justice Brian Cregan wrote to the Taoiseach Enda Kenny on Friday, outlining how issues of confidentiality and privilege meant the commission was “not in a position to proceed with its investigation into any of the relevant 'write-off' transactions”.

Attorney General Marie Whelan has been asked to bring legal advice on the situation to the Cabinet today, with a view to emergency legislation being introduced to the Dáil by the end of the week.

Read More: Anglo probe won't be done before General Election

Speaking to Newstalk Breakfast, Minister for European Affairs and Data Protection Dara Murphy said he was confident that the legal advice given to the government when the IBRC inquiry was established was sound

He said that Mr Kenny had acted “decisively” by passing on Justice Cregan’s concerns to the Attorney General.

"The judge has written to the Taoiseach, he has been decisive, he has passed it to the AG and she has been asked to urgently respond and report back to government,” he said.

"To stretch it to crisis is I think certainly over-egging it a this time. This will just have to be dealt with in the normal way by the legal experts on both sides.

Minister Dara Murphy
Minister Dara Murphy

“There is a risk that if the judge doesn't have the power this will collapse... I can't see him wanting to pursue something that really is pretty toothless - his reputation is on the line in terms of how the report would be dealt with."

Mr Murphy said the commission process was well regarded and has been used on ten previous occasions.

The minister added that the government was "unwavering in its ambition to see the inquiry completed to the fullest degree".

"[It] has been blunt and forthright in its commitment to investigate public concerns surrounding the sale of some assets by IBRC."

Read More: How IBRC deals came into public domain

Independent TD Catherine Murphy
Independent TD Catherine Murphy

The inquiry chaired by Justice Cregan is probing 37 deals by the IBRC, including the sale of contracting firm Siteserv to Denis O'Brien's Millington.

The company was sold for €45.4 million as part of a transaction that saw State-owned IBRC write off €110 million of its debt.

A subsidiary of Siteserv, GMC/Sierra, went on to win a lucrative contract installing metres for Irish Water.

The sequence of events led to outrage from Opposition TDs, who called on the Government to investigate if IBRC got the best price for Siteserv.

Read More: Opposition gifted a stick to beat the Government with

Social Democrat TD for Kildare North Catherine Murphy first raised concerns about transactions at IBRC.

"Given the circus of setbacks the commission has suffered since its inception in early June, it is difficult to believe the Government is serious about getting any real answers to the serious questions surrounding IBRC and certain transactions," she said.

Adding: "It is unacceptable that we are almost five months since the commission was instigated and we now discover that it may not have even begun the process of providing answers."

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