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Minister's top official digs in heels over papers


Finance Minister Michael Noonan

Finance Minister Michael Noonan

Finance Minister Michael Noonan

A major stand-off has emerged between Finance Minister Michael Noonan's top official John Moran and the Dail's most powerful committee, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), over his refusal to release key documents relating to the night of the infamous 2008 bank guarantee.

Correspondence, seen by the Sunday Independent, shows that Mr Moran rejected a request from the PAC to hand over key documents from the night in question and also separate testimonies given to the Nyberg Commission's investigation into Ireland's financial meltdown.

The PAC has been attempting to begin a banking inquiry into the night of the guarantee, but Mr Moran has said he "does not believe it's possible" to release the documents as they are privileged.

PAC chairman John McGuinness and committee members are also calling on Mr Moran to release a "highly redacted" or blanked-out file relating to September 29, 2008.

Mr Moran said he has commenced a review of the file, including "55 key documents", with a view to releasing files "where possible".

However, Mr Moran said the release of any files is highly conditional and said "it would not be possible to forward [to the committee] legally privileged documents", which include communications between the Attorney General and government departments.

He added: "Nor will it be possible to release records that are covered by cabinet confidentiality or where commercial sensitivity remains an issue."

Mr McGuinness has said that given the State's ownership of the banks, such concerns of commercial sensitivities are moot, and shouldn't get in the way of the truth coming out.

News of the stand-off comes as Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin has conceded he will not bring forward legislation on a banking inquiry until 2014 at the earliest, despite having received the PAC's report on how such an inquiry could be held a year ago. This has led to accusations from Mr McGuinness that senior civil servants have "nobbled" an inquiry from commencing.

Separately, Mr Noonan has failed to fill the position of chief economist in his department for over 15 months, despite renewed criticism of its forecasting track record, new documents reveal.

Documents supplied by Mr Moran, Mr Noonan's secretary general to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), reveal that the role of chief economist is just one of a number of key positions in the department which remain vacant. News of the key vacancies in Finance comes as the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council severely lambasted the department's fiscal forecasting record since 1997, citing major failings in its ability to spot or accurately identify the extent of the crash.

The department's last chief economist was NUI Maynooth economist Jim O'Leary, who was brought in on secondment in 2010 and vacated the position 15 months ago. But, according to documents seen by the Sunday Independent, he has not been replaced. When he left in January of last year, Mr O'Leary cited "personal reasons" for his departure.

The documents also reveal that the department whistleblower, Marie Mackle, whose warnings about the Celtic Tiger bubble were ignored and dismissed, has been promoted to the role of head of economic risk analysis.

Ms Mackle was revealed by this newspaper one year ago this week as the brave whistleblower within former finance minister Brian Cowen's department.

The Sunday Independent revealed how a catalogue of stark warnings by Ms Mackle on the risk of a property crash were systematically ignored and dismissed by senior civil servants.

She was told that such language was "inappropriate" for a public ministerial speech and "positively alarmist".

"I've paid the price for being an internal whistleblower," Ms Mackle wrote in a 2011 memo in which she says she had been left "progressively alienated and isolated".

Irish Independent