Saturday 21 September 2019

Kevin Doyle: Inquiry was doomed from the start and will take longer than IBRC was around

Denis O'Brien
Denis O'Brien
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

There is something a bit Irish about the likelihood that the investigation into 38 transactions by IBRC will take longer than the bank actually spent in existence.

Judge Brian Cregan's 69-page explanation for why the Commission of Investigation has made very little progress since June will not be read by most ordinary people - but it can be summarised in a few sentences.

The probe was doomed before it started. The terms of reference were unclear and ridiculously vast. The judge doesn't have enough power. And all the parties involved are lawyered up to the hilt.

It seems the rush to take the controversy, primarily around the sale of Siteserv to a Denis O'Brien company, off the news agenda has backfired spectacularly.

Instead, in the unlikely event that the Commission is salvaged we will be hearing the name of that now defunct contracting firm for "several years" to come.

The alternative is that the Commission collapses and the Government have to go back to the drawing board. That is probably the less palatable one for Enda Kenny and Michael Noonan - but given the major problems facing Mr Justice Cregan, it seems the most straightforward.

The judge needs new legislation to overcome confidentiality and privilege issues. He wants more resources and has even discovered that he may be open to perceived conflict of interest allegations himself.

It seems incomprehensible that the judge was asked to investigate transactions involving a "capital loss" of more than €10m - yet the meaning of "capital loss" is not actually defined in the terms of reference.

Similarly he is supposed to decide on whether appropriate interest rates were applied - but the judge is unsure what to measure this against.

Meanwhile, the liquidator of Siteserv did not delay dissolving the company "as he did not believe there was any reason to do so".

Ultimately the task set for Mr Justice Cregan was to decide if the deals done by IBRC were commercially sound. Right now it seems hard to argue that proceeding with this inquiry in its current format is a financially sound way of spending taxpayers'money.

The biggest understatement in the interim report is: "There is no quick and easy way to carry out an investigation concerning dozens of complex financial transactions involving multiple parties and with hundreds of thousands of pages of documents."

Irish Independent

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