What kind of Inquiry for the banks?
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.
“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.