Saturday 20 July 2019

Inquiry shows folly of politicians deciding who is to blame

Former journalist, Labour Senator Susan O’Keeffe. Photo: Tom Burke
Former journalist, Labour Senator Susan O’Keeffe. Photo: Tom Burke
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The emergence of the draft executive summary of the Banking Inquiry has once again highlighted the inadequacies of such investigations being conducted by the Oireachtas.

From a journalistic standpoint, the document, obtained by the Irish Independent, was a perfectly adequate synopsis of the evidence heard by the sprawling inquiry.

The language it used was somewhat more strident than that which ended up in the inquiry's flat and underwhelming final report.

Words such as "greed", "laziness" and "incompetent" jumped off its first page as the draft summary unambiguously described the failings of key organisations and players who contributed to the crisis.

It also touched on several key issues, such as the access property developers had to Fianna Fáil politicians at the Galway Races, which didn't make the final report.

But the document, drafted by Labour Senator Susan O'Keeffe - a former journalist whose work triggered the Beef Tribunal - didn't stand a chance when it was circulated in the bear pit of the inquiry room.

One inquiry source said he felt it was "too tabloid" and that it tended to point the finger. Fianna Fáil members of the committee believed it to be "too political".

With no consensus that it could be used as the basis for an executive summary, it was promptly ditched.

It had been the inquiry's second attempt at agreeing an executive summary - something that would tie together the most relevant information and findings.

An earlier version, written by civil servants, had also been rejected.

In the end, the inquiry ran out of time and a final report was published without any executive summary at all.

This little vignette illustrates the folly of having a group of politicians adjudicate on issues where the reputations of their parties are at stake.

No matter how much a politician may insist they put aside party political considerations when sitting on an Oireachtas inquiry, more often than not, their natural biases come to the fore at some point or other.

So we ended up with a deeply unsatisfying report, where blame was spread widely and no one in particular was named.

One committee member said it was a case of making the best of the circumstance.

They were restricted from making adverse findings against individuals, had limited time and needed to get the report done before the General Election or else the inquiry would fall.

Many TDs are now suggesting there should be an inquiry specifically focused on Anglo Irish Bank once various legal matters have been dealt with.

It can only be hoped that if such an inquiry happens it is conducted independently of the Oireachtas.

Irish Independent

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