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Banking inquiry will have powers to compel - but no witnesses until after May elections

Who chairs it and who sits on it have still to be worked out, but the banking inquiry committee is unlikely to hear evidence publicly until after the local and European elections, TheJournal.ie has learned.

File photo
File photo
Image: Photocall Ireland

AN OIREACHTAS COMMITTEE that will investigate the banking collapse will have automatic powers to compel witnesses to appear before it, but it is unlikely to take evidence in public hearings until after the local and European elections.

The government hopes to have the long-awaited inquiry into the collapse and subsequent guarantee of the State’s banking system established by April, but the exact details of its membership and who chairs it are still to be worked out.

Preparatory work by the banking inquiry committee, once it is established, is likely to delay it taking evidence in public until after the local and European elections, TheJournal.ie has learned, potentially alleviating concerns that it will be a “political show trial” to damage Fianna Fáil. It could be the autumn before public hearings and witness evidence begins.

The task of assembling the committee, determining the suitability of members, and setting its terms of reference will fall to the Dáil’s Committee on Procedure and Privileges (CPP), which has a majority of government members.

Crucially, the CPP will give automatic powers of compelability to the banking inquiry. Currently the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) must apply to the CPP and ask it to compel a witness, a protracted process which has delayed the appearance of a former SIPTU official before the PAC over inquiries into an alleged ‘slush fund’ at the union.

Any TD who has made subjective comments about bankers or individuals connected to the crisis and the inquiry is likely to be excluded from being part of the committee. A government source insisted last night there are plenty of TDs who will be eligible to take part, citing the need for “political savvy” above accounting and banking expertise.

Political parties and the Dáil Technical Group will be asked to nominate members who they believe are suitable for the task, but the CPP, with government control, will pass final judgement.

‘Political savvy’

The committee, likely to be smaller than most others, will have representation proportionate to party numbers in the Dáil as is the case with other Oireachtas committees, but it will be smaller and likely to have less than 10 members.

This also means it will be chaired by a government TD and have a majority of coalition members. Labour’s Ciaran Lynch, who currently chairs the Oireachtas Finance Committee, is widely tipped to take up the role of chairperson. However, this website understands he has not yet been approached either formally or informally about the role.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin recently suggested the coalition will orchestrate an inquiry to inflict maximum political damage on Fianna Fáil, saying they want to use it “as a kind of a political show trial”.

But government chief whip Paul Kehoe has denied that the inquiry is “a political stunt” designed to inflict damage on the party that was in government when the crisis hit. He insisted that the process of setting up the inquiry has progressed as quickly as it could of and said the investigating committee will be “fair and balanced”.

‘Needed’

“We need a banking inquiry. The people who made the decisions must come before elected representatives of the people who paid so heavily for their actions,” he said. “People want to know the truth of what happened.”

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The proposed changes to standing orders followed legal advice from both from the Oireachtas and outside legal counsel with members keen to ensure the changes comply with the Oireachtas Inquiries Privileges and Procedures Act passed into law last year.

It was also clarified at the CPP meeting last night that the inquiry’s work could be allowed to continue beyond the current Dáil provided that it completes certain modules by the time of dissolution in March 2016, assuming the government goes to full term.

Last September, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the inquiry should be “modular in nature” and focus on three areas: the bank guarantee and the events leading up to it; the role of the banks and their auditors; and the role of State institutions.

Any modules completed by the time of dissolution can inform further inquiries in the 32nd Dáil after the next general election if members decide to continue the investigation.

Read: Banking inquiry could be up and running within ‘four to five months’

John McGuinness: Missing bank guarantee documents need to be found

About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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