Tuesday 24 September 2019

Law will be changed so IBRC inquiry can continue, says Noonan

Michael Noonan
Michael Noonan

Kevin Doyle and Eoghan MacConnell

Changes will be made to the laws on confidentiality and privilege so that the Commission of Investigation into IBRC can continue its work, Finance Minister Michael Noonan has indicated.

Mr Justice Brian Cregan, who is carrying out the probe into 38 transactions at the former Anglo Irish Bank, met with officials from the Department of An Taoiseach and the Attorney General's office yesterday in the wake of the publication of his interim report.

In it he outlined his belief that the Commission "is unable to proceed with its investigation without legislative change" because the Department of Finance and Special Liquidators of the bank have asserted a duty of confidentiality over documents.

Judge Cregan also said that he cannot access relevant information from the Central Bank and Irish Stock Exchange, due to legal constraints.

And he wants extra resources, including at least one more judge, assigned to the investigation because of the enormous workload involved.

Opposition TDs have described the Commission as "essentially unworkable", but yesterday Mr Noonan said the judge had made a "very good start".

"The judge now has pointed out certain difficulties he is facing and the Government is committed to amend the legislative base under which he operates, so that he can continue and have a full inquiry which gives the kind of results that the Dáil expressed a view that it wanted," Mr Noonan said.

He said the Government was "as surprised as the opposition with the kind of legal difficulties that have now arisen".

In relation to suggestions by Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams that the issue had been kicked into touch, Mr Noonan replied: "Gerry Adams and his party were consulted fully on the terms of reference in great detail through his representative Mary Lou McDonald and none of the issues that the judge has raised now were raised by Sinn Féin, by Fianna Fáil or by Catherine Murphy with me when we were putting the inquiry together."

The judge has proposed looking into the six biggest deals first, which would include the sale of contracting firm Siteserv to a company owned by businessman Denis O'Brien.

The write-off of €119m attached to that deal sparked huge controversy and led to the initial calls for a commission.

Tánaiste Joan Burton has backed the idea of focusing on the six transactions which had total write-offs amounting to around €859m.

"I think that makes a lot of sense, but it's now up to the opposition parties to perhaps reconsider the approach that they clamoured for. We will have to pay very close attention to the judge's advice," she said.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, whose department is responsible for funding the inquiry that has cost almost €250,000 to date, has written to all of the opposition leaders seeking their input into how the Commission can be salvaged.

Irish Independent

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