Flawed design leaves banking inquiry unable to deliver

Report expected to criticise Central Bank, regulator, ECB and the government

There are question marks over how the Houses of the Oireachtas Service has handled the allegations about the banking inquiry. Photograph: Alan Betson Banking inquiry: The most useful recommendations from the committee might actually relate to how in future such inquiries should operate.

There are question marks over how the Houses of the Oireachtas Service has handled the allegations about the banking inquiry. Photograph: Alan Betson Banking inquiry: The most useful recommendations from the committee might actually relate to how in future such inquiries should operate.

 

On September 10th last, the final day of public hearings at the Oireachtas banking inquiry began with a statement by its chairman, Ciarán Lynch.

He reminded everyone the inquiry had been established to get answers about the banking crash and to ensure such a crisis never happened again.

“While much has been written about the crisis, gaps have remained in our knowledge of that time,” he said. “The Irish people want and deserve the fullest and most comprehensive understanding of how this crisis enveloped our country.”

Unfortunately, the inquiry’s report, which will be published on Wednesday, is unlikely to deliver all of these answers. It never could, given the flaws in its design.

For one reason and another, it wasn’t able to compel all the witnesses it wanted to attend, while the ECB wouldn’t play ball, and there were issues surrounding certain disclosures connected with the Central Bank.

Number of reports

In a typically Irish way, we’ll actually get a number of reports from the committee members. At 11.30am, Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins, who, along with Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty, refused to sign the inquiry’s report, will issue his own document.

Senator Seán Barrett has also written a report and there is talk of Doherty publishing an analysis.

The official report is expected to be highly critical of the Central Bank, the financial regulator, the European Central Bank and the Fianna Fáil-led government.

Brian Cowen is said to be unhappy with certain references to his evidence, notably the fact that he didn’t reveal that a meeting at Druids Glen golf course in 2008 with certain Anglo Irish Bank board members – economist Alan Gray and his friend and former Anglo director Fintan Drury – actually began in Drury’s house. This did not emerge from Cowen’s evidence, or from Drury’s, which begs the question as to why Drury wasn’t sent a draft copy of the report for his observations.

The most useful recommendations from the committee might actually relate to how in future such inquiries operate. The report is expected to recommend a series of changes to the legislation that governed the inquiry’s work.

Among those changes likely to be sought by the committee is legislative support preventing a collapse of an inquiry in the event of a general election. This was a very real prospect last year as talk of a November election reached fever pitch.

Lynch took to the airwaves to appeal for the committee to be given the time to complete its work. Enda Kenny granted him his wish. Another proposal is for any future inquiry to be given up to two years to complete its task. The banking inquiry’s work lasted 20 months. On a more micro level, future committees should be smaller – 11 members was too many – and consideration should be given to having an independent third-party chairman, perhaps a judge or a barrister, to direct proceedings and take responsibility for the compilation of the report.

There also needs to be a greater gender balance to future committees. It’s hard to believe Labour Party Senator Susan O’Keeffe was the only woman member of the banking inquiry.

Big problem

While the public hearings produced a lot of interesting testimony, the practice of each committee member asking questions of each witness needs to change. A big problem with Oireachtas committees is that the members all want to make the Six One News or appear in newspaper headlines the following day by asking the killer question. They are reluctant to give up their speaking time, especially when there are star witnesses in the chair.

This is understandable when there’s a general election just around the corner but there needs to be a sharper focus to questioning and a more logical flow to them as well.

Crucially, future inquiries need to be supported by people with the necessary skills to pull together a tightly written report that provides a sharp analysis of the proceedings and offers up meaty recommendations for future actions.

The farce that surrounded the eleventh-hour cobbling together of the banking report must never again be repeated.

Twitter: @CiaranHancock1

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