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Andrew Lynch: Beware Brian, we won't forget this banking scandal

When Jack Charlton was criticised over his negative tactics as manager of the Irish football team, he famously replied that he'd never yet seen anyone score a goal from the car park.

Now Brian Cowen has shown that he believes in much the same philosophy.

By choosing to hold the bulk of the banking inquiry behind closed doors, the Taoiseach has effectively booted the issue so far into touch that it won't be bothering him for at least a few more months and probably much longer.

He's also made September 2008 the cut-off point for investigation, meaning that some of the Government's most controversial decisions (such as the recapitalisation of Anglo Irish, AIB and Bank of Ireland) will be strictly off-limits.

Signs

As an exercise in short-term damage limitation, this private commission will probably do the job nicely.

The problem is that as far as most people are concerned, a semi-secret inquiry is almost worse than no inquiry at all.

The whole purpose of investigating the banking crisis should be to hold bankers publicly to account -- and all the signs are that this won't be happening any time soon. While calling this inquiry a whitewash before it's even begun might be premature, it's possible to make a few predictions right away.

The deadline will be vague and will keep getting pushed back, thanks to legal challenges and requests for more funding.

The eventual findings will simply confirm what we already know and will bring us no nearer to the public prosecutions that so many people desperately want to see.

Meanwhile, the Government will be able to dismiss any questions over its own culpability with the handy little excuse that it's all the subject of a top level probe -- and of course, they can't possibly say anything that might interfere with its work.

The American banking collapse happened at roughly the same time as our own.

Over there, around 40 top executives have gone to jail, an aggressive congressional inquiry is in its final stages and a comprehensive report will soon be published.

Over here, Cowen strongly resisted the notion of any sort of investigation until just a couple of weeks ago -- and if the new Central Bank governor hadn't virtually insisted on it, it probably wouldn't be happening.

Cowen's decision is a clear snub to the Green Party, who openly demanded a public investigation with a significant role for the Oireachtas.

It's also a sign of just how irrelevant the Dail has become over the last decade or so.

Ever since the Dirt inquiry, the national parliament has gradually deteriorated into an irrelevant talking shop -- and now a glorious opportunity to give TDs a real job has been completely wasted.

For long-term Cowen watchers, this is just the latest example of a consistent pattern of behaviour. As the recent weather crisis showed, the Taoiseach's attitude to any emergency is always to wait until the last possible minute and then take the bare minimum of action that's required.

This safety first approach might have made him a perfectly good Taoiseach during the boom years -- but right now, it's left him looking completely out of touch.

Debacle

Mary Harney once claimed that because the electorate has such a short memory, any political scandal is likely to be forgotten within six months. The banking debacle, however, is likely to prove the exception.

Because of it, virtually every citizen in the country has taken a financial hit -- and with NAMA about to roll into action, we'll all be kept aware of the billions we've stumped up to save the banks for many years to come.

Brian Cowen has taken the easy option of kicking the ball out of the stadium. It's a negative tactic -- and he shouldn't be surprised if the crowd starts booing his performance even louder as a result.