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FF resist public bank inquiry in crunch talks with Greens

FIANNA Fail and the Greens were due to hold crunch talks this evening to agree a format for an inquiry into the banking crisis.

The coalition partners have been sending mixed signals about their approach to the investigation over the weekend, but Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Green leader John Gormley are understood to be today hammering out a compromise deal.

Government chief whip Pat Carey last night indicated that the inquiry will begin in private before having some public element further down the road.

The senior Government party is resisting a fully public inquiry because it says such an approach at this time could jeopardise criminal investigations into activities at Anglo Irish Bank.

However, if the Oireachtas were to hold a series of public hearings there would also be huge potential to embarrass or even destabilise the Government, as key witnesses could include Taoiseach Brian Cowen, ex-Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and ex-Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy.

Last night, Mr Carey said that they had to be "absolutely certain" that an inquiry does not prejudice investigations already under way by the director of corporate enforcement, the Garda fraud squad and the financial regulator.

"That is not saying that is a reason for not doing anything," he said.

Mr Carey hinted that an initial "scoping exercise" could be carried out in private, most likely by experts from the financial and political worlds.





Rigorously

His comments suggest that a combination of a commission of inquiry, on a vaguely similar basis to those which investigated clerical child sex abuse, will take place first and will be later followed by an Oireachtas inquiry.

"I think it's important that we first of all move quickly and rigorously to gather, by way of maybe a scoping exercise, what the issues are that need to be addressed," Mr Carey said on RTE's The Week In Politics.

The Green Party has accepted that a preliminary investigation may have to be held in private but the timeframe for this element is likely to be a point of debate.

Opposition parties are adamant the Dail must have a role and hold those involved "up to scrutiny".

Fine Gael's Richard Bruton said today: "The general public have in many cases seen their livelihoods destroyed and taxpayers have been lumbered with debts that will beset them for years.

"They have a right to see those who landed them with these debts publicly explain what went wrong."

He added: "Conducting a banking inquiry in camera would damage the effectiveness of such an inquiry."

kdoyle@herald.ie