Given that the Soldiers of Destiny were anchor tenants for three terms before the current occupants arrived, it cannot be said that Micheál Martin doesn’t know his way around Government Buildings.
He was knocking around the place long enough to become very familiar with the layout.
So the Fianna Fáil leader wasn't buying it yesterday when Enda Kenny tried to explain the configuration of the ministerial corridor. In fact, unless the Taoiseach has had the builders in to do a major refit (unlikely, with the nation staring into an abyss and all the muscle and machinery required for economic heavy lifting), Micheál was absolutely certain that the location Enda was endeavouring to describe bears no relation whatsoever to what stands in Merrion Street.
When the Taoiseach was accused of “stonewalling” on Tuesday, he robustly denied the allegation. And he was telling the truth. Because yesterday, it transpired the alterations carried out in Government Buildings did not require any structural changes. Bricks and mortar were not used.
Following sustained questioning from Micheál, it appears that Enda just put in some temporary partitions between himself and the Minister for Finance.
Chinese walls, which can be moved around at a whim and whipped away when not needed. Most useful.
It means that if Michael Noonan should know something of critical importance pertaining to the Commission of Investigation into the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC), he would be unable to impart this to his Taoiseach because of the wall between them.
Obstruction and obfuscation
A very unfortunate state of affairs, as Enda was so keen to set up this inquiry and get to the heart of what happened within the IBRC and his
Department of Finance
regarding various legitimate deals cut by the bank with some very fortunate clients.
Opposition TDs are particularly anxious to hear the finer detail surrounding the sale of a company called Siteserv. But they are finding it incredibly difficult to get any answers, which only serves to make them suspicious.
“Obstruction and obsfuscation” complained Micheál.
For two days running, he says the Taoiseach gave no answers to two simple questions about the sale of Siteserv and other State-owned assets by IBRC.
Why has the Department of Finance refused to surrender its rights to documents sent to the commission? Could it really be true that no officials knew anything about this privilege and confidentiality problem until this week, when the media and certain politicians had long been flagging up the likelihood of such a difficulty arising?
But Enda was at pains to point out that the Department of Finance sent every last scrap of documentation to the inquiry. Nothing cut out, totally unredacted.
That seems fair enough.
Not so, according to the Fianna Fáil leader. Because while the department gave the judge everything, it did not give him the crucial go-ahead to show relevant material to other parties involved in the inquiry. All this information was for Mr Justice Brian Cregan’s eyes only.
It's like sending somebody a bottle of wine without a corkscrew. Or giving them a car with an empty fuel tank and asking them to drive to Donegal.
Why, wondered the Fianna Fáil leader, is the Department of Finance insisting on retaining privilege in this matter?
He pointed out that when he was minister for health, he took the decision to waive legal privilege in relation to the haemophiliac tribunal, “because we were asked to waive legal privilege. A lot of people didn’t like it, by the way . . .”
Enda’s hands are tied. He insists he can’t ask Michael Noonan (or anyone in his department) how things are progressing with the commission, as that would be against the law.
Does the leader of the Opposition want to see him break the law?
“Which law? What section?” asked barrister Willie O’Dea.
"The establishment law," said Peter Mathews, shaking his head.
The Taoiseach couldn’t say.
What about Noonan giving him an update, as ministers tend to do for taoisigh? Or furnishing the judge with that waiver. Not on, it seems.
“It is incredible that the Taoiseach of the day would claim there is a Chinese wall syndrome at the heart of Government in regard to an investigation into the sale of a company which involved the write-off of €119 million,” fulminated Micheál, who sees no reason why such an important commission of investigation should be stalled because of confidentiality issues on the part of a Government department.
“You can talk all ye like about Chinese walls,” growled Enda. He wasn’t going to get into trouble by talking to the wrong people about this important inquiry he established as a pressing matter of national interest.
“Waiving privilege is not breaking the law,” countered Martin, having done it himself and been spared the ordeal of slopping out in Mountjoy.
“It ill behoves you to come in here as the leader of your party and suggest to me that I should deliberately break the law in respect of the Commission of Investigation Act,” sulked the Taoiseach, rather unconvincingly.
His backbenchers took noisy umbrage on Enda’s behalf. But O’Dea demanded to know what law he would be transgressing.
"You should be ashamed of yourself," cried the chief whip, Paul Kehoe.
"At least you should be in a position to know what law the Taoiseach is breaking," shot back Timmy Dooley.
Kehoe said nothing.
“He can’t find the section,” whooped Willie. “Cos it doesn’t exist.”
This is all very odd.