Ministers want Anglo kept out of initial bank inquiry
Government figures concerned trials of FitzPatrick, McAteer and Whelan could be jeopardised
Former Anglo chairman Seán FitzPatrick, former finance director Willie McAteer and former leader of the bank’s business in Ireland Pat Whelan are due to stand trial in January. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
Senior Government figures believe the forthcoming parliamentary inquiry into the banking crash should postpone investigating the Anglo Irish Bank debacle until after the trials next year of three former Anglo executives.
Ministers wish to avoid jeopardising the trials by closing off scope for any prejudicial comment to be made during the course of the inquiry.
The Government gave the go-ahead yesterday for the inquiry under new laws as the Dáil resumed after its nine-week summer recess.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the inquiry should focus on the bank guarantee and events leading up to it, the role of banks and auditors, and the role of State institutions.
Mr Kenny said it was his earnest hope and expectation – and that of the Government – that the inquiry was conducted prudently and judiciously “having regard to pending criminal trials”.
This matter is viewed with great sensitivity due to the potential for trials to collapse if defendants successfully argue they cannot get a fair hearing.
They are charged with providing unlawful financial assistance to 16 individuals to buy Anglo shares when the investment of businessman Seán Quinn was being unwound. The transaction had the effect of propping up Anglo’s share price as the financial crisis worsened in 2008.
Mr FitzPatrick also faces charges of failing to disclose an arrangement between Anglo and Irish Nationwide Building Society under which he borrowed money from INBS and for allegedly deceiving Anglo’s auditors in relation to his loans.
Last week it emerged that former Anglo executive Matt Moran, chief financial officer when the bank was nationalised in 2009, had received immunity from prosecution arising from the criminal investigations into the defunct bank.
One senior Government figure said phone calls were made last year from the Office of the Attorney General to Ministers when the theatre production Anglo: the Musical opened, advising them to avoid comments which could endanger the trials.
The next step is the approval, expected next week, of the order to commence the new legislation. The matter will then go to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, which governs the work of parliament.
The inquiry will be set up as a creature of the Oireachtas, but the Government’s large majority means it has the power to set the agenda.
The spokesman for Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore cited advice from Labour that the inquiry should be carried out by the finance committee “or a subcommittee thereof”.
Mr Kenny’s spokesman declined to set out a Fine Gael position, saying the matter was for the Oireachtas to decide.
The “subcommittee” option is the favourite. The emerging view is that the group in question should be particularly small, with perhaps no more than four senior parliamentarians presiding over the inquiry.
This is described as a “wise men” approach, the objective being to contain the proceedings. Mr Kenny told the Dáil that the inquiry should be robust and effective.
“The objective should be to determine without fear or favour and with dispassion and integrity all of the true material facts and the material circumstances that led to the collapse of the banking sector which continues to cause hardship, loss and suffering to the Irish people.”