Saturday 25 November 2017

Bank Inquiry dead in water as Donnelly quits in protest

Independent TD Stephen Donnelly pulls out in protest at Cabinet's 'crass and cynical control'

Stephen Donnelly TD has quit the banking inquiry
Stephen Donnelly TD has quit the banking inquiry

Daniel McConnell and John Drennan

INDEPENDENT TD Stephen Donnelly is to resign from the Banking Inquiry in protest at what he has said is the Government's "crass and cynical" decision to "control" the outcome of the investigation, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

Mr Donnelly warned that Taoiseach Enda Kenny can now set the inquiry's terms of reference, decide who is questioned, exclude certain events from consideration and even veto the final report.

Writing in today's Sunday Independent, Mr Donnelly said: "For me, it was imperative that the inquiry was run by the Oireachtas. This week, through their words and actions, the Cabinet has shown definitively that this will absolutely not be the case and that the Government will use its majority to control the inquiry. So I, for one, will not be taking part."

A widely respected TD, who is a former management consultant with a Masters degree in public administration, Mr Donnelly's decision to resign will come as a critical blow to the credibility of the inquiry, which has been mired in controversy even before evidence is heard.

Last night there were growing fears that controversy over the inquiry's composition may lead bankers, civil servants, politicians and others associated with the banking collapse to doubt the impartiality and independence of the hearings – an outcome which could cause the inquiry to collapse. This would be a blow to the Coalition, and Enda Kenny in particular, whose political capital is bound up in the inquiry.

In the Sunday Independent, Mr Donnelly tells of his shock when he discovered last week that the Government intended to add two senators to the inquiry committee.

He writes: "I admit that I didn't think the Government would be that crass, cynical, or just downright obvious. But then I haven't been in politics very long."

He adds that it is now fair to say that "any notion of political reform" in this Dail term is dead: "The Government has stopped even pretending that things could be different."

Last week, the Government added two extra Coalition senators to the inquiry committee to ensure it had a majority, a decision which caused uproar in the Dail and Seanad.

The Government had expected to have a majority, but at a meeting of the Seanad committee of selection last week, Labour Party nominee Susan O'Keeffe failed to attend and the committee voted for Fianna Fail's Marc MacSharry and Independent Sean Barrett as the two Seanad nominees.

Seanad Leader Maurice Cummins sought to have the issue referred to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges because of a possible conflict of interest for Mr MacSharry, but refused to reveal the nature of the conflict. He later withdrew his remarks.

Last night Fianna Fail said it would "consider our position" on the inquiry should Mr Kenny try to prescribe its terms of reference, rather than allow the Oireachtas committee agree them as intended.

The party's finance spokesman Michael McGrath, also an inquiry member, said the Government's "stroke" has caused political confidence to seep from the inquiry, even among its own members, and he indicated that he too could withdraw from a Coalition-dominated inquiry.

He added: "Those people who voted No to the Dail Inquiries have now been fully vindicated. I would not trust a group of politicians handpicked by Government, working to a Government mandate, with my own personal reputation. The impartiality and independence of the inquiry has now been seriously called into question."

In the Dail last week Mr Kenny insisted the Government had to have a majority on the inquiry for the terms of reference to be agreed and its mandate to be adopted.

However, Mr Donnelly says that, for him, it is imperative that the inquiry is run by the Oireachtas and not by the Cabinet.

He writes: "The Banking Inquiry is, under law, an Oireachtas Inquiry, not a Cabinet Inquiry. The rules of the Oireachtas were properly followed in voting through all nine members. The Labour senators didn't show up to vote, so they lost the vote – tough luck.

"But the Cabinet decided it didn't like the outcome of the Oireachtas vote, so it reached in and changed it. What, then, is the point of having an Oireachtas?"

Mr Donnelly says today that the inquiry members might want to do things Mr Kenny did not want them to do; they might think it relevant to look at events he did not want them to look at; they might want to question people he did not want questioned – such as the Taoiseach himself and Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan.

"But if the Government didn't have a majority, he couldn't control it. He openly admitted that he would be directing the Government committee members so he could control the terms of reference, the final report, and what the Inquiry members did," the Independent TD says.

Several other members of the Inquiry, which is due to meet for the first time on Thursday, have said the events of the last week have damaged the independence and integrity of the Inquiry into the 2008 crash.

Yesterday Mr MacSharry said there was no question but that the inquiry had been damaged by recent events.

He told the Sunday Independent: "There has been an appalling tampering in the democratic process which does not augur well for the Oireachtas as a whole, not just this inquiry."

Independent Trinity College senator Sean Barrett also said the integrity of the inquiry had been compromised. He criticised Mr Kenny's obsession with what he called "Punch and Judy-style politics". Mr Barrett said: "When faced with a national problem which has left us with a €64bn debt legacy, the Taoiseach could not move away from the old tribal prism of civil war politics. He has done incredible damage."

Sinn Fein spokesperson Pearse Doherty said the events of last week had played into the "Fianna Fail narrative that this is an anti-Fianna Fail stitch-up''. He also expressed concerns about the unwieldiness of an 11-person committee asking questions, saying: "It could be argued that nine was too many but 11 will be almost impossible to control."

Even some Government members of the inquiry have expressed some disquiet as to the handling of the affair.

Fine Gael senator Michael Darcy disagreed with government comments that the vote which saw Mr MacSharry elected was an ambush.

"It was no ambush. They won a vote, that's politics," he said. Mr Darcy also criticised Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore's comment that Fianna Fail had pulled off a political stroke, saying that it had been "unhelpful".

The chairman of the inquiry, Ciaran Lynch, said yesterday he would not be drawn into speculation about what members might or might not do. "I am working on preparing an agenda for Thursday's meeting," he said.

Another Government Inquiry member, however – speaking on the basis of anonymity – warned that the departure of Mr Donnelly would do the inquiry's reputation immense harm.

Last night a Government spokesman said it was not for the Government to determine the terms of reference, which was entirely a matter for the inquiry. "There is no involvement. It is entirely a matter for the committee to establish that. This is an Oireachtas forum," he insisted.

Sunday Independent

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