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Banks in the spotlight

A Financial Regulator steps down amid accusations that he ignored warnings of a coming crisis. Leading bankers are publicly grilled about the integrity of the system over which they presided, and are ordered to justify their huge salaries and bonuses.

More and more bankers come forward to offer profound public apologies for mistakes that brought down the banking system and one repentant CEO offers to accept an annual salary of less than one euro until such time as his bank returns to profitability.

Not in Ireland, however. There have been no public grillings of bankers here and apologies have been thin on the ground.

The three reports, cited above, came from Britain and the US, the contrite CEO being the boss of Citigroup.

But the Irish public appetite for information and redress is increasing.

Calls for an intensive inquiry into the banks have come from Patrick Honohan, the Governor of the Central Bank, and the economist Colm McCarthy, as well as from the Consumer Consultative Panel and from the Financial Services Ombudsman.

Last week, the Green Party leader and Environment Minister, John Gormley, added his own call for an inquiry and, today, we report that his colleague, Energy Minister Eamon Ryan, has predicted that some bankers will come before the courts in 2010.

The prospect of court cases should not deter the Government from holding an inquiry into the roots of the banking crisis.

The Taoiseach has appeared reluctant to respond positively to insistences that an inquiry is badly needed and he has offered two reasons. He does not want to do anything that would cut across current investigations and he believes that an inquiry would damage the country's reputation abroad.

Perhaps Mr Cowen should consider the damage that rejection of an inquiry would do to the reputation of his own government, at home.

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People are suspicious about the interaction of bankers, developers and politicians.

They are contemptuous of evasion.

There may indeed be court cases to come, but Colm McCarthy has summed up a more pressing problem: "The absence of a factual public narrative on the banking collapse is damaging the credibility of the fiscal adjustment programme."

And upon that rests the credibility of the Government and of the country itself.


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