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'Ridiculous': The banking inquiry won't be able to discuss 30 minutes of a crucial Cabinet meeting

TDs and Senators will have access to Cabinet documents but not be allowed to talk about what ministers discussed.

Former taoiseach Brian Cowen and former finance minister Brian Lenihan
Former taoiseach Brian Cowen and former finance minister Brian Lenihan
Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

THE BANKING INQUIRY will be prevented from asking former government ministers about what was said during 30 minutes of a crucial Cabinet meeting in the lead up to the bank guarantee six years ago.

The special Oireachtas committee set up to examine the collapse of the State’s banking system met for the second time this morning to discuss in more detail the timeline and limits of its investigation.

Legal advisors told the 11 members of the committee that they will have access to Cabinet documents and memos from the period around 30 September 2008 with all information that influenced the decision being compellable.

But TDs and Senators will be restricted from inquiring into what was said during a period of around 30 minutes of a crucial Cabinet meeting that led to the Fianna Fáil/Green government’s decision to issue a blanket guarantee of the Irish banking system.

Even former ministers who wish to waive their confidentiality will not be allowed to do so because of the constitutional protection afford to Cabinet deliberations.

Fianna Fáil TD and member of the committee Michael McGrath described the issue as a “setback” and “a ridiculous situation”.

He said it was “entirely avoidable” given that the confidentiality issue was one government had been aware of in advance.

He said: “This was the official Cabinet meeting where the decision was made. We have set up a banking inquiry which cannot now consider the Cabinet meeting where the decision was made – that is the bottom line.”

McGrath insisted there was merit to holding an inquiry but said it would’ve have been better to have an inquiry with “real teeth” and reiterated his party’s call for a ‘Leveson-style’ inquiry into the banking collapse.

Timeline and costs

He also expressed concerns about the limited timeline placed on the inquiry with members now due to issue their final report in November 2015. Public hearings are set to get under way in January of next year but could happen before then.

The inquiry also heard today that a budget of some €5.3 million will be allocated which chairman Ciarán Lynch said this was roughly equivalent to €1 for every person in the country.

Around €200,000 has been allocated for legal costs but there are concerns among some members that this may not be enough if witnesses challenge the inquiry in the courts.

The committee also agreed to appoint a group of technical experts in various fields in time for the September return of the Dáil to work on the inquiry’s terms of reference.

Concerns were raised at today’s private meeting about the inclusion of officials from the Department of Finance and Central Bank on this group and the matter is set to be raised again next week.

Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty said it was a positive development that Cabinet papers from the period are to be made available pointing out that it was always known that confidentiality of ministerial discussions could not be breached.

“The only body that can have a limited lifting of Cabinet confidentiality would be a tribunal which we obviously aren’t,” he pointed out.

Originally published 4.53pm

Read: These are the questions John Bruton wants the banking inquiry to answer

Read: Warning over legal challenges as banking inquiry’s public sessions not expected until 2015

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Hugh O'Connell

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