Fianna Fáil rules out bank crisis inquiry for now

 

SEVERAL SENIOR Government figures have now ruled out holding a public inquiry into the banking crisis any time in the immediate future.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin said yesterday such an investigation was not an immediate priority for the Government, strongly indicating such a vehicle would not be established during 2010.

Mr Martin said he supported the views express by Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan earlier this week that the Government’s first priority should be to ensure that Nama was established on a sound footing and that clean banks emerged.

“It’s a question of prioritisation,” Mr Martin told RTÉ yesterday. “It’s a question of . . . where the time and energy [of officials] working at the coalface and solving the banking crisis should be.”

Mr Martin’s comments drew strong criticism from the two main Opposition parties. Both claimed the Government had no intention of setting up an inquiry. They also said they would raise the issue when the Dáil returned on January 19th.

Fine Gael deputy leader Richard Bruton said Mr Martin’s line of argument seemed to be that the State must avoid scandal at all costs if Nama was to get on track.

“Professor [Patrick] Honohan [governor of the Central Bank], holds an independent position,” Mr Bruton said. “The first thing he has asked for it an investigation. The first response of Government is that we are far too busy and we cannot do it. If this request is rejected on that spurious ground, people will feel disappointed.

“It’s not beyond their wit to frame a forensic investigation. It doesn’t need to be the ‘barrister-fattening exercise’ or ‘political circus’ Mr Lenihan suggested it would be. This is clearly not what the governor of the Central Bank was advocating,” he said.

Former Labour leader Pat Rabbitte said the proposition that an inquiry would damage confidence internationally if it were held now was absurd. “On the contrary, a properly structured speedy and cheap investigation would actually restore confidence in a most emphatic way,” he said.

Mr Rabbitte also confirmed that he would publish a Bill that would formally confer the power on the Oireachtas to inquire by parliamentary committee, as soon as the Dáil reconvened.

Separately, a motion calling for an early inquiry into the banking crisis, due to be heard at the first Fianna Fáil parliamentary party of 2010, has been withdrawn.

Government Chief Whip Pat Carey confirmed the motion had been withdrawn indefinitely, with the agreement of the two deputies who tabled it, Mattie McGrath, Tipperary South, and Seán Connick, Wexford. However, Fianna Fail’s Chris Andrews said he could see no good reason why an early inquiry should not be held.

“All things being equal, I would like an inquiry to be held this year. I certainly do not think that it should be postponed indefinitely. It’s vital that people are held publicly responsible for the crisis.”

In contrast, his Fianna Fáil colleague Michael Ahern, chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Finance, said he saw no reason for an inquiry in the short term. “We know well enough what’s been happening in the banks . . . anybody who doesn’t know that was living in fantasy land,” he told Newstalk.

Mr Martin said an inquiry would be established but refused to be drawn on specifying a date, saying that was the responsibility for Mr Lenihan and for Taoiseach Brian Cowen. He also refuted the suggestion that the Government was saying it was wrong for Prof Honohan to call for such an inquiry to be set up.

“We need to establish Nama first and enable clean banking to emerge and for credit to be made available,” Mr Martin added. “We will have to in the fullness of time establish how the banking system got it wrong.”