Is a banking inquiry likely to satisfy anyone?
Much remains to be decided about timing and composition
Independent TD Stephen Donnelly: he has suggested a five-person committee, with each of the main parties represented along with the technical group of Independents
On Wednesday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny put the wheels in motion for an Oireachtas inquiry into the collapse of our banking sector.
Much remains to be decided about the timing and composition of the inquiry but the Taoiseach said it would be well-resourced and comprise three modules – the bank guarantee and events leading up to that decision; the role of banks and auditors; and the role of State institutions.
It’s not clear who will investigate this matter. There’s no appetite for another tribunal. Moriarty and Mahon took too long and cost too much. The Public Accounts Committee has been mentioned, as has the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Finance. Both are open to the charge of partisanship. Politicians investigating politicians, even former ones, or political acts is never a great idea.
What about the Finance Committee?
With 27 members, it is too unwieldy. Independent TD Stephen Donnelly has suggested a five-person committee, with each of the main parties represented along with the technical group of Independents.
There is also the issue of whether Anglo Irish Bank should be included in the scope of the inquiry given the court cases pending against certain former executives.
The Government’s advice is to steer clear of Anglo until these cases are out of the way. Independent TD Shane Ross told the Dáil this week it would be “frankly ridiculous” to proceed with an inquiry without considering Anglo.
Others, including financial commentator Paul Sommerville, wonder why we need an inquiry in the first place. He cites the three reports – Honohan, Nyberg and Regling-Watson – that have already investigated the banking collapse.
After paying €64 billion to bail out Irish banks, taxpayers want to hear the likes of former AIB chief executive Eugene Sheehy and his Bank of Ireland counterpart Brian Goggins account for themselves in a public forum.
Sommerville has also questioned what benefit we would ultimately get from an inquiry. It is hard to say in
the absence of its terms of reference but there will be no magic answers provided.
The likelihood is that the former Taoiseach Brian Cowen, ex-regulator Patrick Neary, Sheehy, Goggins and others will argue they simply made bad decisions at a time of enormous pressure when the global financial system was on the edge of collapse.
They opted for the certainty that the guarantee provided as they thought it was in the best interests of the State. It was a bad call but they
are only human.
Whatever form the inquiry takes, the reality is that it
will be the courts of this land who will decide if any criminal acts took place or if anyone should suffer a sanction beyond the realm
of public opprobrium.