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Saturday 24 February 2018

Ministers fear inquiry will prejudice future trials

Finance Minister Michael Noonan
Finance Minister Michael Noonan

Fionnan Sheahan and Kathryn Hayes

CABINET ministers are worried about an Oireachtas banking inquiry, or witnesses before it, jeopardising any cases against former Anglo Irish Bank officials.

In the fallout from the Anglo Tapes, Finance Minister Michael Noonan yesterday called on former Anglo chief executive David Drumm to return to Ireland to co-operate with any inquiry.

The Government is expected to stick with its plan to hold a parliamentary inquiry, based upon new legislation currently passing through the Dail.

The prospect of holding a referendum to give the Oireachtas greater powers of investigation is now considered unlikely. The Cabinet is due to discuss how to proceed with an inquiry at its meeting this evening.

Attorney General Maire Whelan is due to brief the Cabinet on the various options available to it, including:

* Oireachtas committee based on new legislation.

* Oireachtas committee with greater powers if a referendum is passed.

* Commission of investigation.

* Tribunal of inquiry.

Public Spending Minister Brendan Howlin is thought to favour sticking with the plan of starting an inquiry with the new legislation, which will be passed this week.

Although ministers have floated the prospect of a referendum, the appetite for this option isn't strong as it would delay the start of the inquiry.

"There is no chance of an inquiry until at least next year if you go down the referendum route," a source said.

However, the Irish Independent understands that ministers are worried about an inquiry jeopardising any trials.

Former Director of Public Prosecutions James Hamilton has said it would be foolish for the Government to proceed with an Oireachtas banking inquiry before criminal trials take place. His views have focused minds in government circles ahead of today's cabinet discussion.

OBSTACLES

Ministers are worried about witness testimony prejudicing any trials.

"How are you going to run a criminal law procedure and have something going on in the Dail? It's not going to be easy to keep other names out of the narrative," a minister said.

Government sources said there were potential flaws and legal obstacles in every process taken.

"What Hamilton said is true of any inquiry," a source said.

Mr Noonan has warned there will be sanctions against anybody who fails to appear before the planned banking inquiry. He said Mr Drumm should co-operate if he was part of any inquiry.

The former Anglo chief has apologised for the "frivolous tone and language" he used in the Anglo Tapes. But he is still refusing to return home from the United States to assist with the investigation into the bank.

Mr Noonan said he should return, if he is called before an inquiry.

"Obviously if there is an inquiry and he is a relevant person, I think like everybody else he should co-operate fully with the inquiry," he said.

"There will be sanctions in the legislation that Brendan Howlin is bringing forward for persons who don't co-operate so that's an issue as well when he (Mr Drumm) is contemplating his position," he said.

Mr Noonan also insisted Mr Howlin has laid out in the "clearest possible terms" the direction the Government is taking in terms of proceeding with the banking inquiry.

Irish Independent

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