A politicised banking inquiry will struggle for public support

Analysis: certainty that committee would reflect Coalition majority starting to evaporate

Labour Senator Susan O’Keeffe had anticipated being one of the nine inquisitors, but the nomination of Marc MacSharry of Fianna Fáil has swayed the balance in favour of the Opposition.   Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Labour Senator Susan O’Keeffe had anticipated being one of the nine inquisitors, but the nomination of Marc MacSharry of Fianna Fáil has swayed the balance in favour of the Opposition. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Tue, Jun 10, 2014, 12:46

The banking inquiry has been slouching towards the starting line for some time, but a festering row over which politicians should sit on the investigation has slowed progress even further.

An apparent certainty - that the committee would reflect the in-built majority of the Coalition parties in the Oireachtas - appears to have evaporated.

Opposition members had expected the Coalition would try to overturn the selection committee’s decision, but their current assessment is that such a move would be politically risky. No Government wants to appear tyrannical.

For now at least, Government members are unexpectedly in the minority on the inquiry.

Labour Senator Susan O’Keeffe had anticipated being one of the nine inquisitors, but the nomination of Marc MacSharry of Fianna Fáil has swayed the balance in favour of the Opposition.

Ms O’Keeffe this morning said she wanted to see “nine impartial, hard-working people” sitting on the committee. It is a lovely concept.

But strong doubts exist about the capacity of our politicians to sit in objective judgment on matters of such sensitivity and importance to their parties’ legacies.

It was clear from the beginning that the Government wanted its personnel to dominate the panel of Oireachtas members, who will quiz former luminaries of the banking and political world.

On the political front, it is inevitable that the explanations offered by “box office” Fianna Fáil figures such as former taoiseach Brian Cowen and other prominent people from his ill-fated administration will dominate any proceedings.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny made no effort to disguise his approach when a motion establishing the inquiry came before the Dáil and he referred to “catastrophic consequences of the light-touch regulation introduced by Fianna Fáil over the years”.

Accusations of political bias were immediately flung, and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin also accused Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore of employing rhetoric that would “prejudge this inquiry”.

Mr Martin warned his party would not support efforts to “politicise the inquiry, to narrow its focus and to indulge in a highly selective approach to a serious national issue”.

Presumably even the title of the inquiry, Certain Aspects of the Banking Crisis, so reminiscent of tribunals old, gives him cause for concern.

Independent TD Stephen Donnelly foresaw the Coalition’s attempt to grab control of the inquiry and suggested there should be an extra non-Government committee member so there could not be a Government majority.

He also argued the party whip should be removed from TDs on the committee.

Shane Ross, another Independent deputy who has not been behind the door when it comes to commenting on events that led to the collapse of the financial sector in late 2008, ruled himself out with the frank comment: “I am biased against bankers”.

The inquiry, which needs to get under way sooner rather than later, will struggle to secure public support if the perception it has been politicised grows.

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