Cabinet talks on bank guarantee ‘off limits’ to inquiry

Minutes and discussions from night of bank guarantee not open to investigation

Michael McGrath: says exclusion of 2008 talks diminishes the inquiry. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Michael McGrath: says exclusion of 2008 talks diminishes the inquiry. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Thu, Jun 26, 2014, 01:00

The Oireachtas banking inquiry has been told the minutes and discussions of the Cabinet meeting on the night of the bank guarantee are off limits to its investigations.

The 11-member committee met again yesterday and was given legal advice that while it will be able to examine memos and other supporting documentation prepared for Cabinet, the deliberations of ministers during the meeting will not be available to it.

In a statement released after the meeting, Ciarán Lynch, the inquiry chairman, said the committee was briefed on minimising the risks of it being challenged, and on how any risks should be managed.

He also said the members were told that “issues such as Cabinet confidentiality should not have a major bearing on the committee’s work”.

However, sources said the committee was told the contents of the incorporeal Cabinet meeting of September 30th, 2008, as well as other meetings, will not be open to investigation because of the constitutional right to Cabinet confidentiality. Questions to witnesses on the contents of any such meetings are also ruled out.

‘Very positive’

The advice was given to the committee by Patrick McCann SC, and Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty said it was “very positive”. “Everything is on the agenda bar the discussion. It was a very positive outcome,” Mr Doherty said, adding that concerns were raised by the committee last week that Cabinet confidentiality could be interpreted to protect documents and briefing materials.

There were also discussions about the period that should be examined by the inquiry, and one source said there was concern among some Opposition members that the policy decisions leading to the guarantee could be excluded.

“There was a feeling we needed to keep it tight and that the inquiry couldn’t stretch on for years,” said one source. “But we also need to examine the policies leading up to the crisis and not just the legislative response to it. You can see how difficult it will be to agree terms of reference.”

However, it is understood that nobody mentioned restricting inquiries to just the bank guarantee itself.

Scoping document

Mr Lynch also said there was a “general desire that the inquiry be concluded by November 2015”. The committee secretariat will now work on drawing up a scoping document which will sketch out “aspects of the banking crisis to be inquired into to enable the committee to move towards establishing terms of reference”.

Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath said the exclusion of the Cabinet discussions on the night of the guarantee and subsequent meetings “does diminish the committee and diminish the inquiry”.

The committee was also provided with indicative costs of €5.2 million based on an 18-month investigation. This included fitting out a room in Agriculture House on Kildare Street, Dublin, for the hearings, as well as €2.9 million in staffing costs; €300,000 for financial and banking expertise and €200,000 for legal costs for counsel and solicitors.