Thursday 23 May 2019

Alex White: Government giving politics 'bad name' by insisting on majority on banking inquiry

Philip Ryan and Fionnan Sheahan and Niall O'Connor

Junior Health Minister Alex White has said the political row over a Government majority on the banking inquiry is “giving politics a bad name”.

Mr White’s comments follows Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s decision to insist on holding a Coalition majority on the highly anticipated inquiry before its terms of reference are decided.

However, Mr White, who is running for leadership of the Labour Party, said it was “not critical” for the Government to hold a majority.

“I think this is frankly the kind of behaviour that gives politics a bad a name,” he added.

“I think the critical thing about a banking inquiry is that it gets under way.

I don’t think it’s critical that there is a Government majority on the banking inquiry.

What’s most important is that it gets up and running and we get answer and the public gets answer to questions that have been around now for quite a few years."

The Dail was suspended on Tuesday when Mr Kenny told Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin that the inquiry's terms of reference could not be drawn up until the Government held a majority on the committee

The Government was due to hold a majority but a mix-up in voting arrangements in the Seanad meant it failed to hold the balance of power.

Mr White said he believed the current cross-party committee will work together in a “proper way” and an “ethical way”.

“I would have every confidence that members of the Dail and the Senate and opposition will come together in the spirit of achieving what we need to see done, which is get answers to these questions."

"I think they will work well together and the public would expect them to do that,” he added

Despite suggesting Mr Kenny fired former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, Mr White said he saw no reason why he could not remain in Government with the Fine Gael leader should he become Tanaiste.

He said there must be “equality” in the Coalition Government and there should never be a circumstance when the Tanaiste is are not informed when important decisions are being made."

Earlier today, a senator said the Government's changes to the banking inquiry would make "Hitler ashamed".

Senators have also complained about being treated like "muppets" after the Government decided to add two members to the banking inquiry.

The move to add two Coalition Senators is to ensure the Government has a majority on the committee.

The Government is taking the step after a procedural mess up by the Coalition resulted in the opposition had a majority on the committee.

Fianna Fail Senator Ned O'Sullivan compared the Government's actions on the banking inquiry to a dictatorship.

"Hitler would have been ashamed of it," he said.

"The worst day in democracy since the Blueshirts," he added.

His party colleague, Senator Labhras O Murchu said the changes had "a whiff of Communist Russia".

The measure has been described as turning the the banking inquiry into a "kangaroo court".

Fianna Fáil Senator Paschal Mooney the Coalition was telling the Seanad "be good little muppets and do what the Government want you to do".

The proposal will increase the number of members on the baking inquiry from nine to eleven.

Fine Gael Senator Michael D'Arcy and Labour Party Senator Susan O'Keeffe will be added to the membership when a motion is put to the Seanad later this morning.

Labour Senator Ivana Bacik said the committee selecting the members was "ambushed".

The Coalition initially proposed the inquiry team would be made up of five government representatives and four from the opposition side.

However, the issue was subject to a heated row last week after Fianna Fail's Marc MacSharry was appointed to the inquiry team because the Government's preferred candidate, Ms O'Keeffe, and some of her colleagues failed to turn up for the vote.

Fine Gael senator Maurice Cummins objected to Mr MacSharry's membership, claiming that he suffered from a conflict of interest. He later withdrew the remark.

The Government is now adamant that it must have a majority and will increase the number of members from nine to 11.

Speaking in the Dail on Tuesday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the banking inquiry would not have a proper mandate unless it consisted of a majority of government members.

“Obviously there was a voting procedure that took place last week. But in order for terms of reference to be adopted and for a mandate to be given, the Government need to have a majority," Mr Kenny said.

In a statement last night, the Seanad's Committee on Procedures and Privileges indicated that it would not overturn the selection of Mr MacSharry, a Sligo-based senator.

It said that such a move could not be taken because the Inquiry Committee is not up and running.

"Once the terms of reference resolution is passed by the House setting out the subject matter of the proposed Inquiry, and the Committee tasked with carrying out the Inquiry is named, the CPP will have a clear role in the determination of whether a perception of bias arises in relation to an individual member," the Oireachtas committee said.

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