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What role did the media have in the financial crisis? The banking inquiry wants to find out

Terms of reference for the investigation into the collapse of the Irish banking system were finalised today.

Brian Lenihan speaking to the media after the bank guarantee was announced in September 2008
Brian Lenihan speaking to the media after the bank guarantee was announced in September 2008
Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

Updated 4.54pm 

THE BANKING INQUIRY has agreed to examine the role that the media played in the build-up to the collapse of the Irish banking system six years ago.

The Oireachtas committee set up to investigate the events leading up to the bank guarantee has today agreed its terms of reference for its inquiry with public hearings now set to get under way before the end of the year.

One of 51 amendments to the proposal that TDs and Senators were presented with last week is to examine what role the media had to play in the lead up to the crisis.

A committee source said examining the media’s role could involve compelling senior editors, financial controllers and board members at certain major news outlets to appear before the inquiry.

They would be questioned on the impact their coverage had on the inflation of the property bubble in Ireland including, for example, newspapers which ran large property supplements at the height of the Celtic Tiger.

The proposal was put forward by the Socialist TD Joe Higgins who said today that some media outlets would have to account for the “significant income streams” that were “coming from property developers through their property supplements”.

He said: “They have to answer, like other major organisations and influential organisations in society, in regard to how they property bubble developed and what their role was in relation to reporting and how they reported on, for example, the price of a home going up by the equivalent of the average industrial wage for ten years up to 2006.”

He said there would be “a huge gap” if “opinion influencers” like the media were not called before the committee though he cautioned that no specific media organisations were mentioned during today’s meeting.

ECB

Fianna Fáil finance spokesperson Michael McGrath said he was pleased his own amendment to explicitly examine the role of the European Central Bank in the bank guarantee was accepted.

He said he hopes the former head of the ECB, Jean Claude Trichet, will come before the committee despite appearing to rule out making an appearance.

“I think the important thing is that somebody comes and speaks on behalf of the European Central Bank,” McGrath told reporters at Leinster House this afternoon.

“It doesn’t necessarily need to be Mr Trichet. My preference of course is that Jean-Claude Trichet would come,” he continued, adding the more important issue is “the policy of the European Central Bank”.

McGrath also said that scrutiny of the media’s role in the crisis is a “peripheral” and not central to the inquiry.

What happens next?

The terms of reference agreed by members today will now be finalised before the end of the week and then sent to the Committees on Privileges and Procedures in both the Dáil and Seanad.

Once approved by those two committees the terms of reference will be debated in the Dáil and Seanad.

It is then anticipated that the banking inquiry will get under way towards the end of October or beginning of November.

Public hearings, dealing with the context of the financial crisis, are expected to get under way before the end of the year with witnesses not expected to be called before the committee to give evidence until the New Year.

The committee also agreed that the 11 members, seven TDs and four senators, who helped to finalise the terms of reference will form the official inquiry team.

There was controversy earlier this year when the government added two extra members to the committee after a procedural error by the coalition in the Seanad resulted in the opposition parties gaining a majority on the committee by adding two of their own senators.

Read: There’s a “real risk” that the Banking Inquiry could collapse

30 Days in September: An Oral History of the Bank Guarantee

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Hugh O'Connell

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