Go on Cowen, spill the beans about what happened at the bank guarantee meeting

Brian Cowen. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill

Brian Cowen. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill


The Taoiseach’s wish to make Ireland the best small country in the world in which to hold inquiries took a bit of a battering again yesterday.

In the early afternoon, members of his special committee emerged from their second meeting with news that they won’t be able to grill ministers from the last government about what happened in cabinet on the night of the bank guarantee. Which was hardly a surprise.

What went on during that critical meeting in September of 2008 cannot be teased out by the committee because those discussions and the minutes are governed by the cabinet confidentially rule.

That’s rather unhelpful, because details of that meeting remain the big secret of the banking crisis – the rest of its wretched story is fairly well known by now, six years after the event.

This isn’t to say that great strides were not achieved by the committee in their quest to get to the bottom of how the financial institutions went belly-up and took the country down with them.

And while there may have been disappointment around Leinster House with the confirmation that we won’t be getting the low-down from the main players on the night Fianna Fáil and the Greens put the nation into hock, we understand Enda’s carefully engineered committee is working on a cunning plan to get around the gagging clause.

They may not be allowed to investigate what was said, but we understand the Government-controlled committee has agreed a formula of exaggerated winks and meaningful looks which will explain what really went on.


Of course, to be fair to Fianna Fáil, the party has been at pains to point out that its former leader, Brian Cowen, is very anxious to appear before the inquiry to tell his side of the story. Ditto for his ministers.

With this in mind, and to facilitate them, it was also provisionally agreed by the committee, chaired by Labour’s Ciarán Lynch, to adopt a system of special signals for those witnesses hamstrung by the cabinet confidentiality rule.

Obviously, all decisions made by this non-partisan all-party group will be run past Enda first, but they have resolved to robustly question the former taoiseach and his ministers about what convinced them at the late-night meeting to bring in the bank guarantee. They will be guided by the documentation.

Witnesses will cough once if the answer is “Yes” and twice if the answer is “No.”

The phrase “I do not recall” will be indicated by a sneeze. Large quantities of pepper have been ordered.


A loud snore will indicate the phrase: “I am sorry, I was asleep at the time and a garda had to be sent around to my house to wake me up.”

This, it was agreed, would be of particular assistance to John Gormley, the former leader of the Green Party.

The hearings should be great fun.

But wait. Maybe the inquiry should consider another course of action.

The witnesses from the Cowen administration could just come in and tell all anyway.

What’s the worst thing that could happen? Obviously, there would be hissy-fits from the legal people. And Chairman Ciarán Lynch would be carted out with a fit of the vapours.

But what if Cowen were to march in and tell the public exactly what happened that night, saying it’s the least the people deserve?

And what if his ministers were to do the same?

Would they all be arrested?

Who would order it?

Come to think of it, what is the penalty for ministers who breach cabinet confidentiality? Go on, Brian. Just do it.