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Opinion The Banking Inquiry will help put the final pieces of the jigsaw together

The banking inquiry’s first public hearings get under way today and questions remain about what happened six years ago.

TODAY IS AN historic day, not just for this committee, but for our parliament. Today, we start the first public hearings as part of the inquiry into the banking crisis – the first parliamentary inquiry to take place under new legislation introduced last year.

Today is just the first step on a journey which I believe is an opportunity to demonstrate that the Irish parliament can hold a fair and balanced inquiry to find answers to many key questions that remain to be answered about the banking crisis.

The purpose of the inquiry is to inquire into the reasons Ireland experienced a systemic banking crisis, including the political, economic, social, cultural, financial and behavioural factors and policies which impacted on or contributed to the crisis and the preventative reforms implemented in the wake of the crisis.

Various people have their own views about why or whether we need a banking inquiry and what that inquiry should seek to achieve. There have been a number of reports into the crisis and much has been written about it.

But gaps remain in our knowledge of that time. Questions remain to be answered.

The final pieces of the jigsaw

We still do not have a full picture of the events leading up to, during and after the crisis. It is up to us as a committee to put the final pieces of the jigsaw in place so that a full picture emerges. We have the potential and power to add value to what is already known. We can help to increase the public’s understanding of what went wrong.

The Banking Inquiry process involves two distinct phases – a Context Phase and a Nexus Phase. The aim of the Context Phase, which will be completed in March, is to engage with experts to get an in-depth understanding of difference aspects of the banking crisis and to prepare the ground for Nexus Phase.

A natural area to start is with those reports which have already been written to review their findings and recommendations and also to see what has changed since they were published.

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The banking inquiry has its own dedicated website

Today, as part of the context phase, we will meet Finnish academic and finance expert Peter Nyberg who wrote the report of the Commission of Investigation into the Banking Sector, Misjudging Risk: Causes of the Systemic Banking Crisis in Ireland. The context phase will also see us examining banking policies, systems and practices, bank regulation and supervision and financial stability monitoring.

During the Nexus phase, we will engage with institutions and individuals who had roles during the crisis. This phase, which will start in April, will focus on three broad elements: Banking Systems and Practices; Reguatory and Supervisory Systems and Practices; and Crisis Management Systems and Policy Responses and how they interacted.

The Committee will present its final report in November 2015.

Learning from the past and looking to the future

This will be the first time an examination of what caused the banking crisis and the decisions made at the time will be looked at in public. A key element is that the inquiry will be conducted in an open and transparent manner.

This will allow for a first-hand account to be given by people involved in one of the major events in the history of the State. Importantly, it will allow the people of Ireland to see and hear those called on to give their evidence in public.

The committee will have power to compel written and oral evidence. There will be witness testimony, oral evidence, written transcripts, detailed records – all in the public domain. This in itself will add tremendous value to what is already out there.

But it is important that we don’t just confine ourselves to learning lessons about the past, but that we look positively to the future and this inquiry will enable us to do just that. It must examine how our current systems are operating to ensure that we have financial services institutions with proper oversight so that they are robust and fit for purpose into the future. This will ensure that the crisis is not revisited.

The fact that we are starting our public hearings on schedule and that the Committee is now in full operational mode reflects the co-operative and positive approach that the Committee has adopted in how we set about our work.

At a time when we are told that trust in politics is at an all-time low, we have an opportunity to show that politicians and our parliamentary system can make a difference, can deliver something of value and can make a meaningful contribution.

We owe it to the people of Ireland, our fellow politicians and to our parliament to deliver on the trust that has been invested in us. I am confident we can achieve the task that has been set for us. It’s time to do the best job we can for our people.

Ciaran Lynch is a Labour TD for Cork South-Central and the chairman of the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry Committee.

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