Banking crisis inquiry prompts turf war


TWO OF the most powerful committees in the Dáil have become involved in a turf war over which should conduct a high-profile parliamentary inquiry into the banking crisis.

The Public Accounts Committee and the Oireachtas Finance Committee are vying for the right to have control of the inquiry looking into the issues of banking policy, regulation and the circumstances surrounding the government decision to give a blanket guarantee to the banks in the autumn of 2008.

The PAC, which acts as the public spending watchdog, has completed a comprehensive preliminary report, essentially setting out the type and scope of inquiry that should be held. That report will be published today by the committee chairman, John McGuinness, a Fianna Fáil TD.

The report recommends a so-called “inquire, record and report” model, which is likely to require the Oireachtas to extend more powers to the committee, possibly by legislation.

It also concludes strongly that the PAC should conduct the parliamentary inquiry. “[It] is the most appropriate body to conduct a parliamentary inquiry into the banking crisis. It has built up a reputation for securing accountability . . . and is best placed to run one effectively,” it argues.

However, the chairman of the Committee on Finance, Labour TD Alex White, has been in correspondence with the Minister for Public Expenditure, Brendan Howlin, arguing that his committee is the most appropriate. The matter was discussed in private session by the committee yesterday.

Mr White contended in a letter to Mr Howlin that all the matters to be considered in a bank inquiry, including policy, regulation, oversight and political direction, come firmly within the remit of his committee. While accepting that the PAC is a very important committee, the correspondence has pointed out that it is an audit committee and an inquiry into banking would bring it outside its area of responsibility.

When the Abbeylara referendum was defeated last October there was a sense that the PAC might be able to conduct an inquiry without seeking any additional powers from the Oireachtas. But because the type of inquiry it recommends may necessitate such powers, the finance committee has taken the view that it has come firmly back into the picture.

“It is self-evident that the finance committee should be considered as the appropriate committee. That is our remit,” said a member, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Minister, who will have the final say on the matter, is expected to make a decision before the summer recess. A departmental spokeswoman said last night that Mr Howlin had consulted Attorney General Máire Whelan on this matter and had also briefed the Cabinet.

“The Minister has received a submission from the chairperson of the finance committee and eagerly awaits the PAC report, which is expected to be finalised shortly.

“He will review and present to Government any proposals in consultation with the Attorney General,” she added.