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Warning over legal challenges as banking inquiry's public sessions not expected until 2015

The first meeting of the joint Oireachtas committee set up to examine the banking crisis lasted some four hours at Leinster House today.

Committee chairman Ciarán Lynch
Committee chairman Ciarán Lynch
Image: Photocall Ireland

Updated 4.10pm 

TDS AND SENATORS were warned about the legal challenges they could face in the months ahead as the first meeting of the banking inquiry took place in private session today.

The four-hour inaugural meeting of the Oireachtas committee, set up to examine the controversial €64 billion guarantee of the Irish banking system, took place at Leinster House this morning with the 11 members emerging from the meeting around lunchtime.

In a statement this afternoon the committee chairman Ciarán Lunch said that general agreement was reached on the key principles and attributes of the inquiry. These include:

  • the aims of the inquiry should be realistic and achievable
  • the inquiry should be capable of completion within a realistic timeframe
  • risks and challenges can be dealt with
  • it should be cost effective
  • it should have a clear purpose
  • it has a set of terms, yet be flexible within its focus and scope.

There was no discussion of the terms of reference but the seven TDs and four senators were briefed on general housekeeping and the legal challenges they may face in the coming months.

These include the circumstances under which their membership may be challenged because of a perception that a member is biased and the possibility that individuals who are called before the committee could challenge this through the courts.

‘Working group’

There was agreement to set up a working group of “public servants from key institutions” with knowledge and expertise on the banking sector which will report to the committee regularly before final advice in early September.

A broad outline of the time schedule was also given. However, one committee source said they did not think public hearings would be possible until next year.

They said they did not believe that the terms of reference – which are expected to be discussed next week – will be approved by both the Dáil and Seanad this side of the recess which is scheduled for mid-July.

Despite this they hailed a productive meeting, saying: “Everybody seems to be on the same page.”

Meetings will now take place on a weekly basis with next week’s agenda to focus on the scope of the inquiry as well as the risks to the inquiry and how they will be managed.

‘As quickly as possible’

Earlier, Fianna Fáil TD Michael McGrath said the real value in the banking inquiry will be asking those involved in the collapse of the financial system the questions that people want answered.

He said he wanted to get into public session as soon as possible amid reports this could be delayed until as late as next April.

The Cork South Central TD is one of two Fianna Fáil members on the committee and said that he’ll be hoping to ask witnesses “the questions that people want answered”.

“I firmly believe that that is where the real value will be in this inquiry and hopefully this morning’s meeting will be the start of that process,” he said.

He said that the most difficult decision facing the inquiry will be setting out the terms of reference, but said that it would become “pretty clear very quickly” whether or not the membership “are going into this process with an independent mind”.

McGrath welcomed the fact that the government has said it will not apply a whip to Fine Gael and Labour members of the committee although some privately believe a ‘soft whip’ will be applied.

However McGrath said that he hopes to avoid internal votes on the committee.

“If any votes are called and the vote is breaking down along party lines or government versus opposition lines then I really think that we are heading down a very dangerous road where it will be seen as a partisan inquiry.

“So the onus now is on the members to think independently, to have an open mind about how best to approach this inquiry to get to the truth.” 

He said he hoped to get to the public sessions as soon as possible saying it was “ridiculous and unacceptable” if these could not happen until next year.

He added: “The real value is in the public sessions. We need to get into that phase as quickly as possible.”

Read: After much controversy, the banking inquiry will meet for first time today (in private)

Read: 5 key issues facing the banking inquiry before it even starts>

IN-DEPTH: 30 Days in September: An Oral History of the Bank Guarantee>

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Hugh O'Connell

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