No Oireachtas bank inquiry until 2014

Tue, Nov 20, 2012, 00:00

The promised Oireachtas inquiry into the State’s banking crisis is unlikely to begin until early 2014 at the earliest, according to an indicative timeline prepared for the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Last month, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin published draft legislation for a new Inquiries Bill, which should be finalised in early 2013.

The proposed legislation provides for new forms of inquiries, all of which are restricted, as they must stay within the rules of the Supreme Court decision in the Abbeylara case.

In a departure from previous practice, the legislation will give the power to initiate such inquiries to the Oireachtas rather than to Government. It sets out procedures as to how this can be achieved.

The change of policy will mean that it will be the Dáil and Seanad rather than Mr Howlin which will decide the form of the inquiry looking into the 2008 banking crisis and whether it should be conducted by an existing committee – such as the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee or the finance committee – or a special subcommittee set up for the purpose.

However, as finance Bills receive priority for passage through the Oireachtas, the likelihood is that the Inquiries Bill will not become law until the summer.

Earlier this year, a subcommittee of the PAC carried out a scoping exercise which looked at appropriate kinds of inquiry with which to examine the banking crisis and also recommended that the PAC was the committee best placed to carry out the task.

It recommended a form of report where the evidence of witnesses was recorded and then presented in a final report, without any findings being made. (The effect of the Abbeylara judgment is that adverse findings cannot be made against third parties who are not members of the Dáil or Seanad).

According to one of the PAC’s report co-authors, Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy, it would take at least six to eight months of preliminary work and investigation before the committee could begin public hearings.

That would mean that the events surrounding the banking crisis in the autumn of 2008 would not be examined by the Dáil until some 5½ years later.

Mr Murphy said that when the Public Accounts Committee drew up the report before the summer, it warned that “with every month that passes, it makes things more difficult”.

“After five years, people will find it more difficult [in terms of evidence],” Mr Murphy said.

The Government promised in its programme to hold investigations into “crucial issues of public concern, such as the banking crisis”.

The setback – due to the defeat of the “Abbeylara referendum” last autumn – has contributed to the delay in initiating a banking inquiry.