Election in November would pull the rug from under the banking inquiry

If the Dáil is dissolved, the committee’s work stalls

Taoiseach Enda Kenny addressing the Oireactas banking inquiry in July.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny addressing the Oireactas banking inquiry in July.

 

The Oireachtas banking inquiry was a pillar of the political reform promised in the Fine Gael-Labour programme for Government in 2011.

That document called for an inquiry into “crucial areas such as the banking crisis”. When the committee was established, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the Irish people were entitled to the fullest account of the cause of the bank collapse.

The most effective way, he said, was to establish the full truth of the circumstances through an Oireachtas inquiry.

Yet the banking inquiry will be the biggest loser if the Taoiseach calls an early election.

The debate over whether the country will go to the polls in November or February is one dominating the corridors of Leinster House.

But yesterday the House granted the banking inquiry an extension to continue its work, not knowing whether it could follow through on its word.

The Taoiseach told the Dáil: “The chairman has requested more time and there is no reason why it shouldn’t be granted.”

Stalled committee

It’s far from a given that this will happen. Committee member Joe Higgins, a Socialist TD, is not standing for re-election, while few of the other members of the panel can claim safe seats. Senators Marc MacSharry, Susan O’Keeffe, Michael D’Arcy and Sean Barrett would have to be elected to the Dáil or re-elected to the Seanad.

The elections for the Upper House do not take place for months after those for Dáil seats, meaning more delays. And even if the majority is re-elected, could it accept old evidence?

The inquiry has so far received testimony – either written or oral – from 180 witnesses, and any one of them could land a fatal wound on the new committee by challenging its right to consider old evidence.

In short, it becomes all too problematic, and so the work of the inquiry would be destined to fail.

Some would question whether members of the general public care about a final report of the inquiry anyway, given how limited their appetite has been for it.

Critics of the inquiry will argue the final report will offer little new insight.

Pulling the rug from under the inquiry would also raise suspicion as to the Government’s motive for doing so.

Political punch

Fine GaelBrian LenihanBrian Cowen

Whatever happens, it is clear the Taoiseach would be plagued by questions from the media and accusations from the Opposition if he sacrifices the work of the committee for an early election.

The questions are unlikely to shape the entire election, but they would provide a negative start to what appears certain to be a difficult campaign.

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