Burton calls for full financial access

 

LABOUR DEPUTY leader and finance spokeswoman Joan Burton has accused Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan of making an “empty promise” with his invitation to the Opposition to “look at all the books” in his department.

Speaking at the end of the two-day meeting of Labour’s parliamentary party in Roscommon, Ms Burton said: “He has once again offered to open the books, which he offers all the time, but never actually does.”

Ms Burton was responding to a challenge issued by the Minister to the Opposition after the Fianna Fáil “think-in” at a Galway hotel earlier in the week.

Mr Lenihan said: “They are more than welcome to come into the Department of Finance any time and look at all the books, I’m quite happy to have them all opened for them. So let’s have no more of this argument on the airwaves about ‘we can’t see the books and we have to be elected and look at the books before we tell you what we’re going to do’.”

However, Ms Burton yesterday questioned the Minister’s commitment to transparency: “We went through this before, I’m certainly happy to go into the Department of Finance for whatever information he is prepared to offer, but the information in previous times has been scant to say the least.”

She said that, if the Minister was seriously offering to make information available on an independent basis, then she would challenge him to do what was done in Britain before the last general election.

“Each of the opposition parties in Britain, and my counterparts, George Osborne and Vince Cable, had designated officials in the British treasury and in other British departments who gave information directly to the opposition on a confidential, need-to-know basis and briefed them fully about the departmental figures and the departmental approach and that was subject to a Chinese wall, as it is sometimes called, away from the then-government, the British Labour Party.

“If Brian Lenihan is serious about providing information for the Opposition, that is what he needs to do. I think it would be a confidence-building measure from the point of view of the international markets.

“What he’s done before is, we’ve had general chats, we’ve asked about figures and we’ve been told that the figures in the public domain are reliable and then, towards the end of the process I’ve gone in and actually met him. But I have to say that while meeting with Brian Lenihan is always pleasant enough, I have not found that process terribly enlightening.”

Ms Burton said the Minister had offered to open the books, “but that has been to be honest, a bit of an empty promise, I’m not really interested in tea and a biscuit”.

She pointed out that, “obviously there aren’t books any more, most of it is on computer, but we were given a short powerpoint on a couple of different occasions by a number of officials.” She was seeking instead a permanent channel of communications with the department.

“He needs to opt for the approach that has been adopted in other countries, the independent lines of communication sealed from the governing party, directly to myself, as an Opposition spokesperson on finance.”