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A work by graffiti artist Omin, seen on the South Quays area of Dublin, criticising the role played by Anglo Irish Bank executives in the death of the Celtic Tiger. Niall Carson/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Aaron McKenna The opposition has missed the chance to expose the banking show trial

This ‘inquiry’ has no credibility whatsoever and a decent opposition would have resigned en masse in protest.

WE HAVE A strong executive branch of government that, in the normal course of events, controls the supposedly separate legislative branch quite closely. The way the Oireachtas operates is, by and large, dictated by government; and the opposition is mainly there to provide a part in the pantomime until the next election swings round.

Just occasionally a government will lose control of things in the legislature. Governments with tight majorities often have to scrap and negotiate to keep things going their way. The last government of Brian Cowen very famously held on by its fingernails, with one trick deployed being to delay and delay by-elections that it would lose and, with it, any majority.

The current Government has not had much to worry about in maintaining control, with the largest majority of any in our history. One of the big tasks of the Government that came in after the 2011 election was to try and help us figure out just what had gone wrong and how in the massive collapse of our banking sector and, with it, our economy.

Changing the rules

Unfortunately come the day, now three years into a five year term, the Government failed to have enough of its members show up to a vote to ensure that like most other Oireachtas committees, it would hold a majority. The very able Labour Senator Susan O’Keeffe lost out on a spot in favour of Fianna Fail’s Marc MacSharry.

It is the accepted, if not ideal, norm that governments get to throw around their majority in the Oireachtas during the normal course of events. But so much of democracy is about appearances, symbolism and obeying a lot of unwritten rules. Things like orderly transfers of power between governments happen because everyone obeys certain laws written and unwritten about the decorum of such things.

When the Government lost its majority on the banking inquiry, however, it did away with any pretext or symbolism of an independent Oireachtas. It baldly went and increased the numbers of seats so that it could shove in more members from its benches and take the majority. That sort of gerrymandering, changing the rules to alter a result you don’t care for, is undemocratic.

A nakedly politicised inquiry

The independent and very able TD from Wicklow, Stephen Donnelly, resigned from the inquiry. He pointed out that there is no point in going forward with such a nakedly politicised inquiry that will, to judge from how it has been constructed, be guided quite firmly by the hands of Government. In this scenario who can see, for example, civil servants still present in their departments getting dragged out into the light? Or banks that are a part of the Government’s policy strategy coming under scrutiny that might jeopardise their reputations further in the search for truth?

One can’t help but feel that those within the bubble of Leinster House, on both sides, have become so absorbed by the notion of holding an inquiry that it would go ahead no matter the circumstances. Politicians love to be seen to be doing something, and the opposition would hate to miss an opportunity to get the boot in on the bad boys of the Irish crash. Or, in Fianna Fail’s case, try and deflect a few boots.

They’ve become so obsessed with simply being at the match on the day that they don’t care if the result is rigged or the referee is bent.

The same culture that drove this country into the ground

The opposition missed a major opportunity to serve the Government a well-deserved reversal for having made such a blatantly undemocratic move that goes against the spirit of how an effective legislature works. Indeed, the culture of political infallibility exercised by Government is the same one that helped drive this country into the ground in the first place. Weak institutions of state played their part in our national calamity, and it is ironic to say the least that they are again abused during the attempts at inquiring into the death of the Celtic Tiger.

A decent opposition would have resigned from the inquiry en masse, leaving it to be a 100 per cent Government-run show with no credibility whatsoever. That would have left us to go back and start again at constructing a proper inquiry, or seen the Government go forward with a laughable effort that would have no credibility whatsoever.

Should politicians even be investigating this?

Of course, all this is said on the premise that our legislature should be investigating this matter at all. After all, in the matter of the great collapse of our economy and the decimation of our people, politicians are – or should be – as much in the frame for investigation as bankers and property developers. Politicians set the regulatory framework, politicians are reported to by civil servants, politicians are the ones who call for and create tax policy and incentive programmes and all the rest of it.

There’s also the problem that almost all of the characters and institutions involved in the great collapse live, work, eat and drink in the same few square miles around Dublin 1, 2 and 4. The influence-peddlers in Ireland mostly all know one another well, and are interconnected through politics, business and their social lives.

You’re asking a group of people who are themselves implicated in the mess to investigate a group of people who would, otherwise, be considered a part of the same set of influencers and movers and shakers who inhabit that part of the world.

Even an independent, government-free inquiry wouldn’t pull that one off in all likelihood. And anyway, the results will carry no legal weight like all good Irish inquiries and tribunals and the like. Lots of noise for no result.

Let’s consider outside investigators

The collapse was a tremendously abnormal event. It deserves abnormal investigation, with perhaps foreign investigators to run an inquiry that could, at least, make findings in fact that would carry some legal weight to assist courts do their job in prosecuting any wrongdoings.

Forgetting about courts and punishment, for all the good it would do us. I’d just like a fair and honest account of how exactly a great success story and a prosperous country could be levelled so quickly and comprehensively. I’d like to know, so that we can try to avoid doing it again.

Aaron McKenna is a businessman and a columnist for He is also involved in activism in his local area. You can find out more about him at or follow him on Twitter @aaronmckenna. To read more columns by Aaron click here.


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

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