FOUR ministers last night refused to blame the gardai or the Director of Public Prosecutions despite criticising the slow pace of the investigation into the banking collapse.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn had earlier followed in the footsteps of Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin and Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte -- all Labour -- in expressing frustration at the length of time that the probe is taking.
But when asked if they believed the gardai or the DPP were dragging their heels in relation to possible prosecutions the four ministers declined to comment directly.
Meanwhile, the Government issued a collective statement that failed to answer the question.
Mr Quinn's comments came despite Justice Minister Alan Shatter releasing a lengthy statement on Sunday warning against public comments "which could prejudice criminal proceedings".
Taoiseach Enda Kenny then followed that up by warning that people should not "overstep the mark" when there were independent statutory agencies at work. He urged his ministers to "calm down".
Mr Quinn reignited the debate yesterday morning by backing his party colleagues.
"I would have a position similar to that of Pat Rabbitte," he said. "It is very hard for people to understand why it has taken so long."
However, the Government later issued a statement on behalf of all Fine Gael and Labour ministers in an effort to quash any impression of conflict between the parties.
It came after the Irish Independent had contacted the four Labour ministers involved to ask why they had spoken out publicly about the issue, rather than bringing it up at Cabinet.
They were also asked if they believed the gardai or the DPP were dragging their heels in relation to possible prosecutions.
The Government issued a collective statement in response, saying that cabinet discussions were bound by cabinet confidentiality. And it insisted that the Government was united on the issue, while declining to deal with the question of who the four ministers feel might be to blame for the slow pace.
"The Government is keen that the very important inquiries being carried out by all relevant authorities into the Irish banking system are brought to a conclusion," it said.
Mr Quinn said yesterday that he and Mr Rabbitte had no wish to interfere with the independence of the prosecution system -- and agreed with what Mr Shatter had "rightly said".
"But what a lot of people cannot understand is the apparently enormous amount of time it has taken," he added.
Mr Quinn said yesterday that the Irish legal system was different from that in the US, where financial fraudster Bernie Madoff was jailed for 150 years in 2009 after opting for a plea bargain.
"The reason he is behind bars is because he co-operated with the legal process and in effect made a confession," he said.
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore told the Dail last month that he shared the frustration at the "slow pace" of the investigations.
But he added that it was right for politicians to distance themselves from the administration of justice.