Fallout from disclosures may damage Fianna Fáil

Renewed focus on banking crisis likely to focus minds on an autumn inquiry

The political implications of the Anglo tape disclosures are immediate. An air of urgency has been injected into the plan to hold an Oireachtas inquiry into the banking collapse a full five years after the event.

The issue has been on the political agenda for a long time and legislation setting out the parameters of an inquiry is due to be passed into law before the Dáil summer recess. However, the reason for the long delay is that the electorate rejected the proposal to give the Oireachtas wider powers to conduct investigations and make findings of fact.

Changing the Constitution to allow for a proper parliamentary inquiry was one of the key commitments of the Coalition on taking office in March, 2011. But the electorate’s rejection halted these plans.

It took some time for the Government to digest the implications of the result and come up with legislation which would allow for a more limited type of inquiry than had been originally envisaged. Staying within the bounds of the Constitution and avoiding a situation where a parliamentary inquiry could be interpreted as cutting across a criminal case will be vital in any inquiry.

The problem is whether the constraints imposed on the committee by the No vote in the the referendum will make it possible to conduct an inquiry that will provide answers about what exactly happened.

The Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Bill 2013 is now nearing completion in the Dáil and is expected to pass its final stages shortly. That will enable an inquiry to get under way but how effective it will be depends on the competence of politicians involved and the precise nature of their powers.

Squabbling as to whether the Public Accounts Committee or the finance committee should hold the inquiry also served as a distraction. In recent months the mood in Government was that neither of the existing committees should be given responsibility and that it would make more sense to set up a special panel to investigate the collapse.

The renewed focus on the issue, after the disclosure on the tapes involving a conversation between two Anglo executives in 2008, is likely to concentrate minds and ensure the legislation passes before the end of July and that an inquiry starts in the autumn.

While politicians will have to be careful not to do anything to hamper the criminal inquiry, nothing should prevent the establishment of a banking inquiry committee in the autumn. Legal challenges are a possibility, but as long as the committee keeps within the limits set by the legislation it should be able to function.

Tape recordings
Despite the constraints an inquiry should establish how political responsibility was exercised in response to the banking crisis and what the Fianna Fáil-led government was told and how it responded.

TDs of all parties are wondering about how extensive are the tape recordings made during the crisis and whether they involve conversations involving politicians or officials.

The political fallout from a renewed focus on what Fianna Fáil did in government five years ago could be profound.