The Irish Times view: A study of imperfection

Banking inquiry report serves a purpose in the public interest but restrictions hamper outcome

 

The final report of the Oireachtas banking inquiry reflects the end of a long process of investigations and hearings which followed the collapse of the banking system, including a number of earlier reports and a programme of public hearings by the inquiry itself. The inquiry team did much useful work and its recommendations bear consideration both in terms of future regulation and governance and in relation to how such investigations should be conducted. Its public hearings, while unsatisfactorily restricted, also served a useful function in that they were the first time senior figures gave their account of what happened in public.

The inquiry had considerable shortcomings, however. It happened too late. This is not the fault of the inquiry members – remember that a key reason for the delay was due to the electorate voting down a proposed constitutional amendment which would have allowed a new framework for Oireachtas inquiries.The legislation under which it operated, introduced in the wake of the Constitutional referendum vote, allowed the inquiry to complete it work but on a restricted basis.

The recommendations in the inquiry report on how such inquiries should be conducted in future merit careful consideration. There are questions, too: about whether Oireachtas members are the best people to lead such investigations and, if so, how the inevitable party political concerns can be avoided. At the moment neither the Oireachtas inquiry route or the commission of investigation, which operates under separate legislation, are fit for purpose.

The meat of the report comes in its findings relating to the handling of the crisis. It is beyond question that there were huge failures in government, in the regulatory system and in bank boardrooms. Meanwhile few in academia, officialdom or the media spotted the impending storm. The inquiry report adds some interesting detail to our knowledge but the conclusions in some places could be more robust and the public will wonder about the lack of identification of key players.

The inquiry could only go so far; the public will feel it knows more but that the full story of what happened may never be fully clear. The legal restrictions which, we are told, meant much background documentation could not be published are also unfortunate and reflect an unnecessary attachment to secrecy which pervades government and officialdom here.

It might be tempting to conclude that the report closes the book on the economic and banking collapse. The reality is that it will not be quickly forgotten nor should it be, given the huge economic and social cost. The inquiry has helped us to understand a bit more – the pity is that a proper public inquiry did not happen much sooner and under a legal framework which paid more than lip service to the public’s right to know.

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