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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: December 22, 2009 @ 12:00 pm

    What kind of Inquiry for the banks?

    Harry McGee

    The Moriarty Tribunal, so the rumour goes, is due to issue its second report soon after 12 years in existence.

    I have long been a critic of its Tribunal. I believe that the biblical costs of the Tribunal are grotesque – hundreds of millions of euro – when compared to the matters of urgent and public importance they were inquiring into.

    The fee structure put in place for barristers was unjustifiable. It’s like a taxi meter that was switched on 12 years ago and has not stopped running ever since, clocking up €2,500  a day foe everypassenger. Even junior barristers, straight out of law school, who were taken on as researchers at the start (at very generous daily fees)  became wealthy enough to not have any of the financial worries their contemporaries had. The lead lawyer at Moriarty, John Coughlan, billed for 304 days last year, which suggest that he was working at least one day nearly every weekend and some bank holidays and sacrificed most, if not all, holiday time. His fees for the year amounted to €750,000.

    It’s obvious that Tribunals of Inquiry, for all their thoroughness and powers of compellability,  are cumbersome and unwieldy. It’s also insance that they are completely lawyer focused with no forenisic accountants, detectives, or other specialists on the books.

    The biggest winners turn out not to be Joe Public but lawyers. The events that give rise to controversy are often so distant in memory that they are no longer of urgent public importance: rather they assume some historical significance, often little else. Haughey was dead by the time the Tribunal reported on him. Looking back on it now we learned that he took a lot of money (which was corrupt in itself) but as far as I can recall the Tribunal never identified a specific corrupt act that he did in return.

    Granted, Denis O’Brien, Michael Lowry, Dermot Desmond, and others, affected by Moriarty are very much still around. And this second report – reportedly very hard hitting – may have implications and a real impact that other reports did not have.  We will have to wait and see. Even if it does, it’s my firm belief that the ends can nevery justify the grotesque expense of the means.

    Leo Varadkar of Fine Gael made a very good point about the banks when I was talking to him yesterday.

    His quote:

    “Fianna Fail always say we are were we are. It’s also important to know how we got here. It’s a lot more than a bunch of bankers and builders getting together under Fianna Fail. With all due respect, it’s much more complex than
    I agree. Wholly. The problem is, how can it be done.

    Abbeylara was so retrograde. I think it was an over-ambitious, if well-meaning, inquiry for an Oireachtas Committee. But the Supreme Court batted it down severely, and seriously restricted the powers of the committee system to conduct inquiries. No adverse findings of fact could be made against third parties who weren’t members of the Oireachtas. That’s clippled wings territory.

    I’m not sure if that finding can be address by legislation or if a referendum is required. I am convinced that it needs to be addressed. We need a fast-track comprehensive inquiry with full powers of compellability. We only need to look at the parliamentary inquiries in the UK or the Congressional inquiries in the US if we are looking for templates.

    The Government needs to get a move on and get it going. There was too much circumspection from Brian Cowen last week. We need decisions and we need decisions now.

    Focal Scoir: Oonagh Smith’s documentary for Prime Time Investigates was aired last night. It was another amazingly good piece of work from this very strong series – Barry O’Kelly went deep inside the world of petty and street crime last week and Paul Maguire’s investigation of social welfare fraud was also superb. Top marks.

    UPDATE: I wrote an oped piece on inquireis for this morning’s print edition. You can read it here if you wish.

    • Gearóid says:

      Sadly, I fear that any inquiry that does materialise (particularly under the current government) will be toothless, take years to report and will succeed only in identifying a few scapegoats who have long since retired on a huge pension.

      Totally agree about Prime Time last night. It provided an excellent, if overdue, synopsis of the lack of regulation that has brought the country to the brink of ruin. It’s rather worrying, however, that none of the main newspapers, this one included, touched the story this morning. I would have thought that senior politicians receiving huge loans in such a questionable way would be worth highlighting.

    • I don’t think that an inquiry like all the others is what we need. We do need to know who caused the problems and how they got away with it. We need to understand how corrupt we are but not at the top level. We need to know it at the bottom level and with this I mean the county councillors etc who approved planning and bank managers who approved massive loans that were clearly over the top.
      At the top level, TDs, big bankers, Developers and others get away with things because they snake through the laws, they have the ability. At the bottom they are more blatant (that’s why they are at the bottom) so the case for corruption is more shocking if we hear that a councillor is taking cash to approve planning. If those at the bottom are going down then they’ll bring those at the top too.
      I also think this is where the media must play a bigger hand. Perhaps sifting through a decade of planning documents might seem like too much hard work but a journalist is guaranteed to find strange goings on. I think that the media have failed in the past 10 years to do the right job. People got away with murder.

    • Sandeep says:

      Nice piece in the Irish Times today, but an Oireachtas inquiry is pointless. The examples of successful inquiries alluded to from the US are almost invariably independent commissions, not inside jobs by the same politicians. That has to be the model here given the complexity of the subject matter. I’ve blogged about it here: http://irishlawforum.blogspot.com

    • An Fear Bolg says:

      An Oireachtas inquiry would be convened by TDs/Senators. Apart from a small handful, I would not be confident that they have any idea or understanding about the issue or the industry.

      Any investigation by such a committee would be pointless for that reason.

      Someone commented (on this blog maybe?) a while back about the poor standard of discourse in Oireacthas committees – one investigating RTE was given as an example, with a TD naming some recent BBC show and saying “that was good, must be cheap, why don’t you do that”. It’s top-of-the-head stuff.

    • Harry says:

      To An Fear Bolg: You’d be surprised. There are a couple of TDS and Senators who are brilliant and – yes – some who just twitter on. Really good ones include Pat Rabbitte, Roisin Shortall, Leo Varadkar, Noel O’Flynn, Shane Ross (at times), Joe O’Toole and others.

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