Friday 20 September 2019

Michael Noonan defends Government’s handing of the inquiry into Anglo Irish Bank

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan

Sarah Collins in Brussels

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has defended the Government’s handing of the inquiry into the former Anglo Irish Bank, saying he had no idea that confidentiality issues would derail it.

The inquiry stalled this week after its chair, Judge Brian Cregan, said he didn’t have the legal authority to investigate certain transactions by the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC), formerly Anglo Irish Bank.

“It was a matter for the judge to adjudicate and he has adjudicated now,” Mr Noonan told reporters on his way into a meeting in Brussels today. “He has adjudicated in a way that I didn’t expect, but he has made the adjudication,” he said.

Mr Noonan said he was made aware late on Thursday night about the controversy surrounding certain documents provided by the Department of Finance to the inquiry. The Taoiseach received a letter outlining the judge’s concerns on Friday.

Mr Noonan said it came as a surprise because the Department's legal advice was that under a 2004 law on commissions of inquiry, confidentiality issues can be overruled if it is in the public interest.  

“We had legal advice that some of the information in the documents was confidential, but we also advised that our legal advice was that the judge’s powers could overrule this, and, in the public interest, he could use the information as he saw fit,” Mr Noonan said.

The Department of Finance published a statement today saying that it “has fully cooperated with the IBRC Commission of Investigation and continues to do so” and that “no redactions have been made to any documents provided by the Department to the IBRC Commission of Investigation”.

The inquiry is investigating whether the wind-down of IBRC resulted in a significant loss to the taxpayer and whether any favourable treatment was given to anyone involved at the time.

It was due to report on its findings by the end of the year, but Mr Noonan admitted that this deadline would now be missed.

“We will move with all expedition to see can we amend the 2004 act in a manner that strengthens the public interest considerations so that the inquiry can proceed as expeditiously as possible, but, of course, it’s quite clear that this causes delay,” he said. “How much delay, I don’t know,” he added.

He said he had “confidence" in Judge Cregan’s work and “absolute confidence” the Attorney General, despite the controversy, and that he was prepared to answer any parliamentary questions on the issue.

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