Friday 13 December 2019

Maeve Dineen: Transparency of Cloyne Report a template for banks

Maeve Dineen

LAST week's Cloyne Report was a masterclass in how to do these things and should set the standard for all future investigations into financial wrongdoing.

The Cloyne Report was easy to understand, comprehensive, revealed new information and was quickly backed up with a strong political response. There are probably many reasons for this.

One is the fact that the State is sadly no novice when it comes to investigating the abuse of vulnerable children by priests. Another reason is that the State is not directly involved in the crimes and can, therefore, afford to take a neutral stance. A third reason is that government ministers and bishops no longer tend to socialise with one another; there are few recorded instances of golf games between Brian Cowen and bishops who have failed to protect their flocks, while we all know that the former Taoiseach was partial to the odd game of golf with bankers who failed their shareholders.

Too many of the reports into wrongdoing in the banking sector, the Department of Finance and the Central Bank as well as the last government's performance were harmed by obvious conflicts of interest.

The authors of the reports, and the terms of reference, were picked by civil servants who had their own patch to protect. There were far fewer of these problems when it came to the Cloyne Report and this helps to explain why it was so much better.

In this country we still don't have any agreed mechanism to compile and publish reports. Most people have lost interest in tribunals and are thoroughly fed up with both their cost and the time it takes to arrive at any sort of conclusion. They also worry that publication of these reports often serves to protect the subject under investigation from further action in the courts.

I am not usually a fan of borrowing from the British model but there can be little doubt that in the matter of reports, the British do things better than we do.

Even Public Reform Minister Brendan Howlin admitted as much last week when he mused aloud in the Dail that he envied the power of Westminster's select committees to summon executives from News International to give evidence. Our own committees looked "weak" in comparison, he complained. And he is right.

But Mr Howlin should now follow his own convictions and use his power to make parliamentary committees much stronger.

The Public Accounts Committee has already done good work but it has been largely silent since the banks tipped us into recession. It is time for the new chairman, John McGuiness, to be given the powers he needs to compel appearances from retired as well as serving bank employees, civil servants and regulators.

The British also have a useful system of Royal Commissions to examine issues such as embryo research or pension reform. The assumption of everybody who works for such commissions, or gives evidence, is that the final report will be acted on. We have nothing similar here.

After years of fruitless reports into every aspect of Irish life, most of us have stopped believing they will make any difference. Instead these reports simply sit on shelves gathering dust and the ministers who commissioned them, console themselves by alluding to the report every now and then kid themselves, and indeed us, by pretending they have been acted upon.

The many excellent reports from Forfas and the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) are good examples of this. Forfas has been warning for at least five years about the loss of competitiveness in the economy. Those warnings have fallen on deaf ears despite the fact that these reports are written by experts. Much the same can be said of many of the ESRI's special reports.

It goes without saying that the Government must govern and the final decision rests with the minister in charge but it would be good for democracy if there was a working assumption that the recommendations contained in most major reports have at least a fighting chance of becoming law.

This would improve the quality of reports and, more importantly, the quality of our lives.

Irish Independent

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