Drama’s representation of night of guarantee reminds us politicians play with live ammunition
There is no appetite for another expensive judicial tribunal
President Michael D Higgins speaking to Colin Murphy, writer of Guaranteed, at the Pavilion Theatre, Dún Laoghaire this week. Photograph: Aidan Crawley
The explosion of public outrage at the revelations on the Anglo tapes has put the banking collapse back at the centre of the political stage. While the initial response by the Dáil did not augur well for the ability of politicians to get to the bottom of what happened it appears that a parliamentary inquiry is the only viable option.
The exchanges on the topic between Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin on Tuesday and the clash between Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton and Fianna Fáil frontbench spokesman Billy Kelleher illustrate the danger that an Oireachtas committee of inquiry could quickly descend into partisan name-calling.
However, it is difficult to see a workable alternative. There is no appetite at all for another horrendously expensive judicial tribunal and while a less expensive Commission of Inquiry is another option it would inevitably take years and could get bogged down in legal process.
If the politicians can be prevailed on to behave in a disciplined manner and work hard in an orderly inquiry designed to elicit the facts, rather than attempting to score points off each other, it could provide the quickest and fairest route to finding out what actually happened between 2008 and 2010.
Due to the failure of the referendum on parliamentary inquiries in 2011 an Oireachtas inquiry cannot go down the road of making adverse findings of fact against individuals who are not members of the Dáil or Seanad.
There is some talk about holding a rerun of that referendum to give the people another chance to confer those powers on politicians but the question arises as to whether a parliamentary inquiry established with the purpose of making adverse findings of fact about individuals can ever be workable due to the partisan nature of party politics.
In any case, given that that some of the individuals involved on the banking side are facing criminal proceedings, an Oireachtas inquiry bent on making findings of fact would inevitably run into conflict with the courts.
What has been lacking since the banking collapse and the EU bailout is a clear narrative of events so that people know exactly how all the actors in the drama played their parts. There have been a number of valuable inquiries into what happened but they were conducted in private and the role of named individuals was not explored.
The impact of the Anglo tapes has been to generate a public demand for an exact record of who did what and when. There is also a thirst for vengeance, but that has to be left to the courts. A proper parliamentary inquiry, as well as satisfying mere curiosity about what happened, might also prove to be an invaluable aid in ensuring that the same thing doesn’t happen again for the foreseeable future.
The DIRT inquiry of the 1990s is often cited as an example of what can be achieved even with the current legal and constitutional restrictions. That was a tightly focused inquiry based on a detailed report by the Comptroller and Auditor General and it was run under the strict legal supervision of one of the country’s top barristers, Frank Clarke, who is now a Supreme Court judge.