Appointment of an independent chair would facilitate an impartial banking investigation
Government lost referendum vote through its arrogance during the campaign
Even if it manages to do so there is little reality to the terms of reference and detailed procedures for such an inquiry being agreed before September. The terms of reference will be particularly important if there is to be any reality to the inquiry finishing its work during the current Dáil’s term.
The most important aspects of a banking inquiry are likely to touch on the actions of leading figures in Anglo Irish Bank so these modules will have to be adjourned until criminal trials involving some of these individuals are finalised and appeals, if any, are dealt with.
The greatest difficulty the proposed parliamentary inquiry will face, however, is the risk that the politicians involved will not be able to resist the temptation to politicise the inquiry’s work.
The events of this week confirmed what we always suspected – most politicians are incapable of the detachment necessary to impartially conduct such an inquiry.
The exchanges this week, from the Taoiseach down, were all about political point-scoring rather than any desire for careful fact-finding.
One suggestion which may assist in steering a parliamentary inquiry away from the partisan trenches would be to have a non-politician as chair. The Oireachtas could appoint a committee of inquiry under the Howlin legislation but appoint a retired judge or some other independent figure from Ireland or abroad to chair it. Ideally this should be someone with experience of conducting inquiries on such a scale.
The appointment of an independent judicial chair from the outset would assist in shaping terms of reference which are not partisan, and in developing rules for the conduct of the inquiry genuinely designed to ensure fair procedures.
In addition, this chairperson could preside over the public hearings of the Oireachtas committee. In this way the desire that leading figures responsible for the banking crisis should be held to account in televised testimony before the people’s representatives could be met.
An impartial chair could ensure such hearings were conducted in a way designed to avoid political slagging matches, witch-hunts or grandstanding.
Impartial and even-handed chairing would go some way to ensuring that a fair and relatively fast parliamentary inquiry into the banking crisis might finally be possible.