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Parliamentary Inquiries

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 2 July 2013

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Questions (62)

Michael McGrath


62. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance his views on whether a comprehensive inquiry into the banking collapse in Ireland is required; the form he believes such an inquiry should take; when he believes that inquiry will commence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32225/13]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Finance)

The Government has already indicated that it is determined to uncover the causes of the banking crisis in Ireland that caused such devastation in the Irish economy and necessitated the bailout from our international partners in late 2010. The key mechanism to achieve this will be the establishment of a formal inquiry into the banking crisis, enabling all those involved to come before the inquiry and provide the necessary information in order for the truth to be uncovered.

In this regard, the Government has published the Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Bill, which, once enacted, will provide the legal framework for a banking inquiry to be held within the current constitutional parameters. This legislation is being prioritised both in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and in the Office of the Attorney General. I expect the Bill to be enacted before the summer recess and that, once the legislation is on the Statute Book, the Houses of the Oireachtas will move quickly to progress the inquiry.

The purpose of the proposed legislation is to establish a comprehensive statutory framework for the Oireachtas to conduct inquiries within the current constitutional framework as set down by the Supreme Court in the Abbeylara judgment. The Bill provides extensive safeguards to protect the constitutional rights of witnesses, to confirm unfettered access to the courts and to guarantee fair procedures. The Oireachtas inquiry can build on the information provided in the Honohan report, the Regling and Watson report and the Nyberg report. The witnesses will be called and documents discovered to provide a complete picture of the events leading to the banking collapse.

The Nyberg investigation's terms of reference were set up under statutory powers. We must ensure that the proposed inquiry now being considered is carefully constituted so as to avoid the risk of prejudicing any future criminal proceeding. I expect that the proposed inquiry will be conducted in a practical and efficient manner. I also expect it to be a thorough examination that will deliver a clear understanding of the banking collapse and that it will be transparent and valuable to the State and citizens.

Ireland's place in the international arena cannot be compromised. We welcome the transparency and closure that this inquiry will bring and want it to give Ireland the opportunity to learn from this painful experience.

I thank the Minister for his reply. All of us in this House have an obligation to channel the understandable anger of the Irish people from the revelations over the past week into something positive, and to do something constructive. Above all else, the public want to see the criminal justice system work efficiently. I note from today's Irish Independent that the Central Bank is undertaking its own investigation into the question of whether or not it was deliberately misled by Anglo Irish Bank. I find it extraordinary that the Central Bank appears not to have had access to the tapes. It came as news to them, as it did to everybody else.

On the issue of the inquiry, our view is that it should be a fully independent public inquiry. It needs to deal with all of the key issues involved in the banking collapse in a comprehensive way. First and foremost, it should deal with the failures within the banks. In addition, the role of auditors, the financial regulator and the Central Bank must also be carefully examined. Of course, the question of political oversight and political decisions that were made should also be looked at, as well as ECB policy in the European context.

One of the flaws which is glaringly obvious in the approach the Government is taking is that from the very outset, if one goes down the road of a parliamentary inquiry, one is excluding a whole bunch of important people concerning the banking collapse from any possibility of having an adverse finding delivered against them.

That is a key weakness. It is one of the reasons why a political banking inquiry will not ultimately be successful. Even at this late stage, I am calling on the Minister for Finance to reconsider his view on that issue.

I would not disagree with the objective stated by the Deputy for an inquiry. It has to be a fully open inquiry and must pursue the facts wherever that pursuit leads. The Deputy is aware that there was a referendum which would have empowered an Oireachtas committee, or committees, much more strongly than they are currently empowered. I still think, however, that the inquiry can be conducted within the present constitutional parameters. Even though some people would like the power in a committee to have adverse findings against individuals, that is principally a matter for the criminal justice system. The gardaí are investigating and we do not want to have a situation arising where a committee cuts across the judicial system because then one might prejudice a trial. We have had examples of that before where words spoken indiscreetly made it impossible for a trial to proceed. We certainly do not want that.

As regards the terms of reference, my understanding from the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, is that when the Bill proceeds through the House and is passed, the inquiry will effectively be in the ownership of the House. It will then be up to the committee and the House to decide the terms of reference of that committee.

The Bill is in process at present and I invite Deputies to contribute to the process of the legislation and give their advice to the Minister.

We will very much contribute to that process but the reality is that the House is controlled by the Executive and therefore the terms of reference will, in essence, be decided by the Cabinet. Let us be honest with people about that. Nobody wants to embark on an inquiry which would in any way compromise important criminal investigations. We all take that as a given, so whatever form of inquiry is established, among its priorities will have to be the requirement to ensure that criminal prosecutions are not in any way undermined.

I wish to ask the Minister about today's revelations from Governor Honohan's interview. I have been greatly surprised by the fact that the Central Bank is only now, because of the revelations, examining the possibility that it was deliberately misled by Anglo Irish Bank in the lead-up to the bank guarantee decision in 2008. Can the Minister confirm that the Central Bank had no knowledge of, or access to, these tapes until they were publicly aired by the Irish Independent?

The fundamental question which emerged in the tapes last Monday for everybody to hear, was whether or not the State was deliberately misled. Has that only come to the fore now and did the Central Bank have no knowledge of, or access to, the tapes until they were publicly aired?

I have not seen Governor Honohan's comments. The Governor and Central Bank are under law independent in the exercise of their functions. I do not answer for the Central Bank before the House. Governor Honohan was involved and was one of the principals in one of the three inquiries that have taken place. The Deputy might seek clarification from the bank.