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Honohan's show-stopper can't hide Inquiry defects


Patrick Honohan, Governor of the Central Bank

Patrick Honohan, Governor of the Central Bank

Patrick Honohan, Governor of the Central Bank

If you were looking for a lesson about how Irish inquiries tend to have few happy endings it would be hard to surpass the spectacle of the Mahon Tribunal apology to Ray Burke.

Few tribunals may have ever been more lionised by the RTE/Irish Times axis of good-thought, and fewer still have had a more embarrassing denouement.

The ghost of Mahon should certainly be concentrating the minds of a Banking Inquiry which has already skipped the honeymoon phase all new inquiries normally enjoy.

Intriguingly, when it comes to the dusty reception our Banking Inquiry has received, the biggest critics have been its own members. Even more curiously, unlike the Mahon Tribunal - the main flaw of which was an excess of powers - the Achilles heel which is most likely to scupper the current inquiry is its absence of authority.

This deficit was captured by one exchange between the Fine Gael Senator Michael D'Arcy and the Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan, over who had the authority to overrule Brian Lenihan's desire to nationalise Anglo Irish Bank on the night of the guarantee.

In a normal society, given that obviously Brian Cowen was the only person in the room with that authority, the simple answer would be Brian Cowen. However, such are the constricted rules governing the naming of people by the Inquiry, that D'Arcy's simple question created a wave of panic.

Despite the abilities of a set of members who gave Patrick 'too clever for his own good' Honohan quite a roasting, such astonishing levels of self censorship mean the belief is growing within the members that the inquiry is heading for the rocks.

Sadly, nothing epitomised this more than the actual presence of Mr Honohan. The governor had many interesting things to say about a school of regulation where just three officials were in charge of regulating Bank of Ireland and Anglo Irish Bank, and two when it came to AIB.

When it came to the members there was no shortage of acute observations, such as Eoghan Murphy's warning that ''the blanket guarantee is what you do when you don't know what you are doing''.

At the end of the day, however, last week represented a new exercise, even by the high historical standards set by Irish tribunals in pointlessness.

The members, you see, were cross-examining Honohan about his 2010 report into the Irish banking collapse.

This meant, despite all the excitement over the guarantee, nothing emerged on Thursday that was not already known. And, nothing will emerge for the next three months either that is not already known, for this strange creation is in the middle of a curious new concept known as the context phase.

As part of this phase the great inquisitors are investigating a series of reports that have already been concluded by gentlemen such as the former Finnish senior civil servant Peter Nyberg.

Last week, nothing encapsulated the inquisitorially-sterile status of the inquiry more than Honohan's declaration - when being asked about the decision not to nationalise Anglo - that he did not want to be "seen on television naming people".

To most normal people, that might appear to contradict the purpose of an inquiry.

This, however, is how openness, transparency and accountability operate when it comes to 'Dear Leader' Enda's "democratic revolution".

It is a pity, for public appetite for the inquiry could have been whetted by the tales of a Central Bank regulator who kept files on UCD Professor of Economics Morgan Kelly, but not on the banks.

It would represent a dramatic change, for the public certainly haven't taken to the new inquisition.

Prior to the setting up of our great inquiry, much agonised concern went into the provision of facilities, such as an overflow room for concerned members of the public.

Sadly, in an acute verdict on the inquiry of the political paupers, there has not been an excess of punters racing in the door to witness the great trial of the academic reports.

In fact - though we are open to contradiction - we have yet to see a member of the public attending the inquiry. Still, on the plus side, at least the room is free.

The most ironic feature of our inquiry is that if it sinks below the waves, the biggest loser of all will be 'Dear Leader' Enda.

The Coalition's capacity for shooting itself may know no bounds, but you would have thought that not even this lot could turn a banking inquiry into the high crimes and misdemeanours of Biffo, Bertie, Fianna Fail and the bankers into a political threat to themselves. However, the even greater danger posed to the Coalition by the Inquiry is that, far from wounding Fianna Fail, it will instead solidify the Coalition's growing reputation for not having the capacity to organize a drinking session in a brewery.

Indeed, such has been the decline in confidence in this poor, legally-henpecked creature, it is suspected Fianna Fail - far from planning to collapse the thing out of fear or malice - are now keeping it going because of its utter harmlessness.

In fairness to the Banking Inquiry, not all of its failings are the politicians' fault, for the strictures of Abbeylara have played no small role in creating this inquisitorial eunuch.

That said, however, in that very different time of innocence when we had the Dirt investigation, had Jim Mitchell or Pat Rabbitte been given such terms of reference their response would have consisted of two very short words - the second one being 'off'.

In fairness to the inquiry, they are trying hard.

However, while last week provided us with an example of how the inquiry will provide us with some form of belated therapy for the wounds inflicted upon the national psyche by the guarantee and the bailout, too little is being attempted too late.

It is, as they say, a funny old world.

The Taoiseach had hoped to create, via a partisan banking inquiry, a political poisoned apple that might catch in the throat of Fianna Fail before any unexpected recovery might occur.

Instead, it appears to be the case that 'Dear Leader' may be the one found lying prone upon the ground.

Some - but not us, of course - might call such a series of events karma.

Sunday Independent