Government adds two members to banking inquiry committee

Alex White says move is kind of behaviour that ‘gives politics a bad name’

Fine Gael’s Michael D’Arcy and Labour Senator Susan O’Keeffe have been added to the banking inquiry committee.

Fine Gael’s Michael D’Arcy and Labour Senator Susan O’Keeffe have been added to the banking inquiry committee.

Thu, Jun 12, 2014, 13:17

The Government has forced through changes in the Seanad  yesterday, reestablishing its majority in the Oireachtas Joint Committee of Inquiry into the Banking Crisis, amid scenes of uproar and loud protests in the chamber.

Yesterday, in a unilateral move, the Seanad Leader Maurice Cummins tabled a motion that proposed that two additional Seanad members – both Government senators – be added to the committee. They are Senators Michael D’Arcy of Fine Gael and Susan O’Keeffe of Labour.

However, some of the fiercest criticism of the move came from within the Coalition. Minister of State Alex White, a candidate for the leader’s position in the Labour Party, said it was the kind of behaviour that “gives politics a bad name”.

Mr White said: “I think the critical thing about a banking inquiry is that it gets underway. I don’t think it’s critical that there is a Government majority on the inquiry.

“What’s more important is that it gets up and running, that we get answers - and the public gets answers - to questions that have been around now for quite a few years.”

The proposal, which did not allow any debate, met with consternation in the Seanad with prolonged and vociferous protest from the Opposition benches. There were assertions that the move was anti-democratic and it was also compared to the Stalinist era in the Soviet Union, as well as to the Enabling Act of Adolf Hitler.

When the issue came to a vote, the Fianna Fáil whip Diarmuid Wilson demanded a walk-through vote but the proposal was passed – and opposition amendments defeated – with a comfortable majority of 26 to 21.

Last week, the Seanad selection committee for the banking inquiry chose two non-Government members of the Upper House to sit on the all-party inquiry. Three Government senators were absent from the meeting, including its nominee Senator O’Keeffe. Fianna Fáil’s Marc MacSharry was instead selected. Ms O’Keeffe said she had arranged as far back as last autumn for a pair, so she could be in Sligo giving her daughter support in her Leaving Certificate exams. She had not seen the email notifying senators about the meeting.

In a development that caused major embarrassment to the Government, it found itself with minority representation on the committee.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the Dáil this week that the Government needed a majority on the committee in order to set its terms of reference.

The Government’s initial response was to seek to have Mr MacSharry’s membership referred to the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privilege on the basis that his own business involvements might give rise to a conflict of interest.