Thursday 27 October 2016

Andrew Lynch: Toothless Banking Inquiry might as well give up now

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern arrives at Leinster House to appear before the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry
Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern arrives at Leinster House to appear before the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry

When the famously tight-lipped ex-US President Calvin Coolidge died in 1933, writer Dorothy Parker famously asked, "How can they tell?"

By the same token, would anyone really notice if the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry finally admitted defeat and headed for the nearest exit door?

After the investigation's worst week yet, it is starting to look ominously like a dead duck - which means the time may soon be coming to give it a decent burial.

Last weekend, the committee's TDs and Senators split over whether or not former Anglo Irish Bank CEO David Drumm should be allowed to give his evidence by video link from Boston.

Now it appears that after discussions with the Director of Public Prosecutions, they cannot even publish Drumm's written statement.


Accordingly, the Inquiry's ridiculously narrow legal remit is forcing members to operate with both hands tied behind their backs.

Drumm's statement is potentially explosive because it is speculated that it contradicts evidence given by ex-Taoiseach Brian Cowen about a dinner hosted by the Anglo board in 2008.

According to Biffo, it was a purely social occasion and Anglo's business never became a topic of conversation.

He was backed up yesterday by his friend, ex-Anglo director Fintan Drury.

This is exactly the sort of issue that a decent parliamentary inquiry should be able to probe. Unfortunately, Drumm is a fugitive from justice and his evidence could potentially compromise future trials.

The committee members can throw as many shapes as they like - but this week's legal bickering has only managed to leave them looking more toothless than ever.

Just to make life even more uncomfortable, the Banking Inquiry is haunted by an internal whistleblower who alleges that, among other things, the Inquiry was provided with false information and there was a failure in procedures for dealing with conflicts of interest.

It sounds crazy, but we could well be looking at an inquiry into the Inquiry before this whole sorry saga is over.

Meanwhile, the dreary procession of political ghosts through Committee Room 1 is drawing to a close.

Last Wednesday it was the turn of Mary Harney and John Gormley, two former party leaders who dismally failed in their self-appointed roles of watchdogs to Fianna Fail.

Reflecting on the economic nightmare that happily did not prevent her from picking up a €130,000 pension, Harney declared: "We all need to be more questioning than perhaps we were." Not exactly profound but as good as anyone at the Inquiry has come up with so far.

Where exactly is any of this getting us? To put it more bluntly, what are Irish taxpayers getting in return for the €50,000 this feeble exercise is costing every single day?

Everyone would love to know the full story of how and why our banking system collapsed - but by now it must be obvious that politicians do not have nearly enough financial expertise or legal powers to dig it out. Of course, the Government knew this all along.

They set up the Inquiry as a show trial for Fianna Fail, to remind everyone of that party's shady history in the run-up to a general election.

Even that cynical strategy may have backfired, however - because Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen sailed through their interrogations relatively unscathed while Enda Kenny's political point-scoring just made him look cheap by comparison.

Professor Morgan Kelly put it best. The UCD academic who famously predicted Ireland's property meltdown has reportedly refused an invitation to appear because he sees it as "old news".

In other words, most of us have chalked these disasters up to experience and moved on to today's problems - but as usual Leinster House is a long way behind the curve.

Even though the Banking Inquiry is on a tight schedule to deliver a report before Christmas, it has decided to stop public hearings for the month of August.

If it was a sick animal, someone would surely have shot the poor thing by now. Watching it die slowly of natural causes is not going to be a pretty sight.

Promoted articles

Entertainment News