Sunday 8 December 2019

Banking inquiry in danger of collapse over delays - members

Michael McGrath
Michael McGrath

Daniel McConnell and John Drennan

Several members of the "stalled" Oireachtas Banking Inquiry have warned it could collapse because of delays.

The inquiry, which is set to cost €5m, has been held up by Oireachtas authorities who have still not given it the green light to begin its work.

Despite agreeing its terms of reference two months ago, the inquiry has not met formally since October 23.

The inquiry was awaiting formal approval to proceed from two Dail and Seanad oversight committees, and is already behind schedule.

Approval from both houses of the Oireachtas is not now expected to be granted until later this week at the earliest, a full eight weeks after the inquiry signed off on the scope of investigation.

Delays in getting final approval from the Dail and Seanad oversight authorities have raised concerns about the inquiry's ability to conclude its work before the next general election.

Formal public hearings are due to begin at the beginning of next month, but several committee members have conceded that now is most unlikely to happen given the delays.

Independent Senator Sean Barrett this weekend hit out at the lack of progress and wanred the inquiry is "running out of time".

"The inquiry needs to urgently begin public hearings. The clock is ticking on the life of this Dail and the Inquiry risks running out of time," he told the Sunday Independent.

"Given that five months have passed since the establishment of the inquiry, and two months have passed since the expert report to prepare the inquiry proceedings was concluded, we should be long past the early stages of our work at this point," he added.

Mr Barrett's concerns are shared by most fellow members of the inquiry team.

Fianna Fail finance spokesman Michael McGrath told the Sunday Independent: "The inquiry is facing an enormous challenge to get its job of work done by November 2015."

"There really is no scope whatsoever for slippage in the timeline as agreed and I am concerned that it is taking so long to get the Inquiry formally established. The inquiry team signed off on the detailed proposal in late September and the expectation was that the Context Module would have public hearings underway in December."

Mr McGrath said plans to begin public hearings in December is beginning to look "increasingly ambitious".

He added: "I have to say that is deeply disappointing and a cause of concern. Delays in getting the Inquiry fully up and running, and the signal from the ECB that it may not participate in the Inquiry, represent two early but serious challenges to the Inquiry."

Even Government members of the committee are growing concerned at the delays.

Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy said: "I don't know what they are waiting for. The committee and secretariat are ready to go."

Despite the delays, inquiry committee chairman Ciaran Lynch said he is confident it will complete its work on time.

The inquiry's first hearings are scheduled to start in December. Then in the new year, the Inquiry Phase will start hearings on April 13 and conclude on September 24, with a proposed 42 days of hearings. The inquiry committee aims to publish its final report no later than November 30, 2015.

Five months after its establishment, the inquiry this month finally contacted the main witness categories who they will be investigating to inform them of its existence, terms of reference and future plans.

Sunday Independent

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