Coalition not to apply the whip to banking inquiry

Taoiseach and Tánaiste hold talks to discuss Stephen Donnelly’s resignation

The Government was yesterday forced to respond to Stephen Donnelly's resignation from the Oireachtas banking inquiry with an unexpected announcement that the party whip would not apply to any Fine Gael or Labour member of the committee.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore held talks yesterday to discuss the implication of Mr Donnelly's decision, the latest in a series of rows and controversies that has served to undermine the credibility of the key Oireachtas investigation, the first to be held under the new Parliamentary Inquiries Act.

The high-profile TD from Wicklow announced his resignation from the all-party Oireachtas committee yesterday morning. He said it was in protest at the Government's unilateral decision to restore its majority on the committee by adding two members.

Mr Donnelly told The Irish Times that the Government's move to restore its majority on the committee had "clearly subverted the democratic process in the Oireachtas" and left him with no choice but to resign.


Terms of reference

He said the decision was particularly influenced by Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s comments in the Dáil earlier this week that the Government needed a majority on the committee in order to control the setting of the terms of reference.

“The combination of the Taoiseach overturning due process and then being so clear about why he was doing so left absolutely no room for misinterpretation,” said Mr Donnelly. “He was saying, it’s up to Government members to set the agenda.”

The resignation is the latest in a number of damaging blunders, rows and controversies over the composition of the committee which have conspired to undermine its credibility and its authority.

The Government’s difficulties began when several Government members did not attend the Seanad committee that selected its two nominees, allowing two opposition members to be voted through. That left the Government with a minority of representatives on the committee.

Inquiry’s reputation

Yesterday’s decision not to apply the whip to the six Coalition members of the 11-person committee is seen as an effort by the Taoiseach and Tánaiste to salvage the inquiry’s reputation and respond to charges that it will not be objective or impartial in its terms of reference or in its deliberations.

The two major opposition parties indicated yesterday that they would continue to participate in the inquiry but both made scathing criticisms of the Government’s handling of the matter and questioned if the credibility of the inquiry had been damaged.

Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath said the latest episode had underlined his party's argument for a Leveson-type public inquiry, led by a member of the judiciary.

Mr McGrath said such a move would “depoliticise” the inquiry. He said the litmus test would come when the terms were set and if any of the actions of the current Government were included.

"Stephen Donnelly's decision not to participate is a further blow to the credibility of the inquiry. The Government is looking at the inquiry as a political opportunity. That was shown by the Taoiseach's remark about collusion between our party and Anglo Irish Bank, " he said.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times