Members of and witnesses appearing before the €5m Oireachtas Banking Inquiry will not be able to name banks in their comments, legal advice to the inquiry states.
The inquiry begins its public hearings this morning after six months of preparatory work, but is “likely to disappoint” the public in what it can achieve, two members of the inquiry conceded yesterday.
In “strictly private and confidential” documents given to inquiry members and seen by the Herald, members and witnesses will “not be permitted to name any other individuals, but will limit their comments to systems, practices and procedures of institutions”, the legal advice states.
“Legally speaking, companies are persons and therefore even named institutions such as banks will have rights under the Inquiries Act. These institutions have the right to be informed about evidence which affects their good name in advance of it being given.”
The advice goes on to say that this will help to avoid prejudicing criminal proceedings or investigations which are continuing. Last night, the 11-person inquiry met in private to decide the list of witnesses, including former politicians, senior civil servants and bankers it will seek to bring before it when it begins its inquiry stage next year.
Senior members of the inquiry yesterday conceded that the public will be disappointed in what it will be able to achieve.
Sinn Fein’s Pearse Doherty and Fianna Fail’s Michael McGrath have conceded that the inquiry is “severely restricted” by legal opinion given to them. “We won’t be able to make any major findings of fact unless they are uncontested and that is highly unlikely, to be honest, said Mr McGrath.
“The constraints are very serious. I don’t think it is the best form of inquiry.”
Mr McGrath said he would have preferred a judicially-led Levinson-style inquiry which, as he said, would have removed many of the limitations on this inquiry.
Severely restricted by the 2001 Abbeylara judgment, the inquiry members have been told that if they want to try to make any finding of fact against a person, they would all have to be present for every minute of the public hearings.
However, this new legal advice states that even if they do that, no blame can be landed at the door of any former politician, senior civil servant or banker, if they choose to challenge it.
The members have also been warned that the entire inquiry could be at risk by any application to the High Court by any witness or relevant party.
Mr McGrath said success for him, given the constraints, is that the inquiry concludes its work before a general election, but he conceded there will be no earth-shattering conclusions.
Mr Doherty told RTE that the public will be disappointed as to what the inquiry will achieve, given the limitations.
Inquiry Committee chairman, Labour TD Ciaran Lynch, said despite the legal restrictions, the inquiry will aim to give the public a full account of what caused the crash and what lessons can be learned to ensure the mistakes are never repeated.