Banking Inquiry warns McCreevy for not answering question

Ex-minister threatened with criminal sanction over stance on property bubble query

Former finance minister Charlie McCreevy was threatened with criminal sanction by the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry on Wednesday after failing to answer a question from Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty about whether Ireland had experienced a property bubble.

In a dramatic turn during more than five hours of evidence, the committee adjourned for 18 minutes to take legal advice after Mr McCreevy sidestepped Mr Doherty’s question on five occasions.

Mr McCreevy told the committee he had not made any comments on Irish public policy since his time as a European commissioner had ceased in February 2010.

“I’m not going to break it today,” he told inquiry members.

When they returned, chairman Ciarán Lynch reminded Mr McCreevy that he could be subject to criminal sanction and an adverse finding in its report by refusing to answer a question.

Mr Doherty then posed the question again and Mr McCreevy answered: “You could call it, I suppose, a bubble.”

Mr McCreevy gave a robust defence of his time as minister, which concluded in September 2004. In reply to a question from Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath, who asked whether he had got anything wrong during his seven years in office, Mr McCreevy said: “No.”

He said any mistakes were of a “tactical nature, not strategic”.

“I think we did a very, very respectable job. Of course, I would think that, wouldn’t I.”

Ideologue

In his opening remarks, Mr McCreevy noted he was painted as a right-wing ideologue during his time as minister, “possessed of a Scrooge-like parsimony when it came to public spending” but “post the financial crisis, I’ve been turned into a kind of Santa Claus”.

He “vigorously” disagreed with the assertion that the Government misspent the proceeds of the “stellar economic growth” during his period in office.

“We did increase spending in a large number of areas to make up for lost time, and for the under-provision of services in the previous decade and a half,” he said.

Mr McCreevy said it would not have been acceptable at the time to run larger surpluses for a rainy day when the coffers were overflowing.

“If there was one patient untreated by the health services, one family without a house, one special-needs person without proper services, one pay demand unmet, what justification would any government have had for increasing the [pension] reserve fund and initiating further buffers?

“Not alone would it be politically unacceptable, but I suggest it would be morally wrong also.”