Banking inquiry hobbled from start by legal restrictions

Despite shortcomings, inability to ‘name and shame’ does not invalidate findings

Hard evidence: Over the past year the committee chaired by Labour TD Ciarán Lynch heard 413 hours of testimony and received 42,000 documents about the State’s financial collapse. Photograph: Thinkstock

Hard evidence: Over the past year the committee chaired by Labour TD Ciarán Lynch heard 413 hours of testimony and received 42,000 documents about the State’s financial collapse. Photograph: Thinkstock

 

The decision of Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty and Socialist TD Joe Higgins not to sign the final report of the Oireachtas banking inquiry comes as no surprise. The two men were never likely to agree to the kind of report that was inevitably going to pull its punches due to the array of political and legal constraints facing the 11 members of the committee.

The fact that the report has been unable to “name and shame” individuals has naturally disappointed a lot of people but it does not invalidate its findings or indeed the entire process that underpinned it.

The problem is that too much was expected from the inquiry, given the constraints under which it had to operate, and the members of the committee themselves raised false expectations about what they could achieve.

Some committee members, and not just those who refused to sign, have appeared oblivious from the start that the Irish people decided in a referendum in 2011 not to give parliamentary committees the power to make adverse findings against individuals.

There is a lot of double

think about parliamentary inquiries. On the one hand there is a seemingly endless clamour for investigations into potential scandals but on the other the public has refused to trust politicians with the power to carry out the task.

There is no avoiding the fact that the banking inquiry was set up in the full knowledge of the limitations that would face its members when it came to writing their report. As well as legal constraints there was never much chance 11 politicians from a variety of party and ideological backgrounds would agree an analysis of what went wrong and why.

On the record

That process alone, in which the public for the first time heard detailed accounts of what had happened, probably justified the inquiry’s existence. All of the testimony given by former taoisigh Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen as well as former Department of Finance chiefs Kevin Cardiff and David Doyle, among others, is now on the record and open to analysis.

Even if the inquiry’s conclusions fall far short of what the majority of its members would have liked that, of itself, does not invalidate the exercise and neither does the refusal of two members to sign the report.

Tight restrictions

The committee must publish its findings before the Dáil is dissolved ahead of the general election, and last week agreed to extend the publication date until January 27th.

Fianna Fáil TD Michael McGrath struck a realistic note on his way into the inquiry yesterday to consider 140 amendments to the draft report. He acknowledged it would be difficult to achieve agreement on its contents but addedthe committee was never likely to agree a lengthy document on a complex issue that all 11 members were completely happy with.

He summed up the majority mood when he said that if the committee failed to produce a report it would be letting people down. That is the pressure facing the nine members of the committee still struggling to reach agreement and salvage something from the process.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.