Banking inquiry has key questions to pursue Brian Cowen over

If Brian Lenihan had got his way over the bank guarantee, things may have turned out quite differently

Former taoiseach Brian Cowen (left) with  late former minister for finance Brian Lenihan. Mr Cowen has studiously avoided discussing his actions on the night of the bank guarantee, and indeed his role has been obscured by the concept of collective responsibility which pertains to cabinet government. File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Former taoiseach Brian Cowen (left) with late former minister for finance Brian Lenihan. Mr Cowen has studiously avoided discussing his actions on the night of the bank guarantee, and indeed his role has been obscured by the concept of collective responsibility which pertains to cabinet government. File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

The main objection advanced by opponents of the banking inquiry was that, after two reports, several court cases and acres of news print, there really was not very much more to be said on the matter.

The inquiry’s raison d’etre, they would argue, was little more than to provide a platform for some political grandstanding on an industrial scale.

Then along came Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan with his bombshell to the effect that the late Brian Lenihan in his role as minister for finance opposed the inclusion of Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide in the guarantee given by the then government in September 2008.

Bondholders and guarantee

This is both reassuring and unsettling on several levels.

It is of some comfort that at least one person in Government Buildings was thinking straight that fateful night. If Lenihan had got his way, things may have turned out differently. What is of concern is that he was overruled, apparently arbitrarily.

The Central Bank governor did not say by whom, but it can only be supposed the person who overruled Lenihan was the then taoiseach, Brian Cowen.

Cowen has studiously avoided discussing his actions on the night of the guarantee and indeed his role has been obscured by the concept of collective responsibility which pertains to cabinet government.

This veil has now been pulled back and the banking inquiry has a a very important set of questions to pursue Cowen over, should it choose – the most obvious ones being whether he overruled Lenihan, and why?

If he did, it would be interesting to find out the identity of the people on whose advice he relied in making his decision.

It might not lead to the sort of easy banker-bashing headlines that the committee members are hoping for in the run-up to the election, but holding Cowen to account is now the imperative.