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Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Bill 2013: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage (Continued)

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 809 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Shane Ross: Information on Shane P.N. Ross Zoom on Shane P.N. Ross] That is what will happen and what will delay it for a considerable length of time.

It may mean this inquiry goes the way of other Oireachtas inquiries such as the Abbeylara, the mini-CTC signalling project and the Callely inquiries. Oireachtas inquiries have a very poor record of coming to any conclusion because they end up down on the quays in the Four Courts. This inquiry, whatever about the other ones which have preceded it, will inevitably end up in the courts and it may be stalled or stopped. That will be particularly true because of its membership. This issue has reached a point where it is impossible to find any Member of the Oireachtas - I do not know if it is possible to find one who has not spoken about the banking issue - who has not given hostage to fortune and it will end up in the Four Courts which may mean the inquiry comes to a sticky end and ends in a fiasco. That is a real difficulty we have here.

While Deputy Sean Fleming addressed the issue by going 40:40, he was wrong to accept the premise that will somehow produce a fair result. This issue is deeply politicised at this stage. It is an open goal for many Members of the Oireachtas to be on this inquiry and to kick their opponents in the political solar plexus. We know that is what will happen, that there will be a Government majority on this inquiry and that it will dictate the terms of reference, the result, the tone and so on. It will be impossible for the Oireachtas to hold what is suggested will be an impartial inquiry.

I agree with Deputy Sean Fleming that the statement by the Taoiseach last week was the height of irresponsibility and that it actually torpedoed this inquiry in one phrase. "Axis of collusion" was a clever phrase and a good soundbite and it went down very well, but it said that this inquiry will look at Fianna Fáil, the Green Party and others and that it will connect them automatically with what happened. The Taoiseach may well be right but he should not have said it because it immediately turned this into a massive political football.

As night follows day, it is inevitable that the day this inquiry opens with whatever number of Oireachtas Members are on it, there will be grandstanding. We will all do it, if it is necessary, in front of the cameras. People will accuse their political opponents of one thing or another. If the Taoiseach is called before the inquiry, of course, the members of Fianna Fáil will put him under extraordinary pressure and if a member of Fianna Fáil is called before the inquiry, as will happen, the Fine Gael and the Labour Party members will put him or her under enormous pressure. They should be put under pressure but not by their political opponents. That is the real danger of this inquiry. It should be taken out of the political arena if it is to have any credibility at all.

Oireachtas Members are unsuitable for this type of inquiry because of their very nature. They deal in the currency of attracting votes and media attention. They are elected to advocate and legislate but not necessarily to use a very important issue of this sort to batter their opponents. It has already been politicised by the Taoiseach.

I am also worried about the timetable of this inquiry. The Minister, Deputy Howlin, said it would take two years, which would be particularly close to an electoral timetable. If this is to be to the advantage of anyone, because of not being in power, the Government Members will benefit from this. That may well be fair but to time this to coincide with the next general election is deeply suspicious and I worry about that.

I worry about this simply being a political trial of political opponents. It is no good to say findings of fact, which are adverse, cannot be made. The terms of reference might be designed in such a way that it looks suspiciously like turning out to be a kangaroo court. That is not what we should have and it makes me doubt whether people are really serious about finding out the facts and that they see this as a powerful political vehicle and nothing else.

If we are going to restrict its terms of reference up to the night of the guarantee, and as we are looking into banking and how it is practised, why can we not look into how it is practised today and not just under one Administration? What happened under the last Administration was indefensible but what is important is that this Administration also comes under scrutiny, if it is to be fair. Serious questions need to be asked as to whether the banks have reformed in any way since the night of the guarantee in 2008. The question the Government is asking here is a legitimate one but there are equally legitimate ones as to whether it has reformed the banking system and the relationship between Government, senior civil servants and the banks in the way it should have done by this stage.

I want to know what happened and how decisions were made about the liquidation of Anglo Irish Bank. I was here on the night, as were many other Members, and it was chaotic. I do not know what happened that night and how decisions were made but anyone who was here will realise-----

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin The Deputy was on the wrong side of the debate.

Deputy Shane Ross: Information on Shane P.N. Ross Zoom on Shane P.N. Ross The Minister is very good at interrupting. He might listen for a little while.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin I have listened for 20 minutes.

Deputy Shane Ross: Information on Shane P.N. Ross Zoom on Shane P.N. Ross There were many people involved in that who were not aware of what was going on or how decisions were made. Those of us who went to the Department of Finance that night - it had echoes of 2008 - were very puzzled by the fact so little information was given to us, that it was given to us half an hour before the Bill was debated and that the civil servants could not explain the relationship between the Government and civil servants at that time. Let us have an extension of the terms of reference - the Minister can shake his head all he likes - to his own stewardship of the banks and not just that of the last Government.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin It is very hard to listen in silence to some contributions.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Olivia Mitchell): Information on Olivia Mitchell Zoom on Olivia Mitchell The Minister should do his best though.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin I will do my very best. We have been working on this Bill for a considerable length of time - since the rejection by the people of the referendum in 2011 - to structure a framework for the holding of constitutional inquiries. One or two Deputies opposite seem to be under the illusion that this is a measure to set up a particular inquiry into one particular issue. It is overarching legislation which will structure how inquiries are to be conducted by this House and by the other House in the future, including inquiries in regard to the impeachment of judges, the impeachment of the President, should it ever arise, and inquiries into legislation and on the gathering and presenting of facts. It is not legislation designed for one impending inquiry. I know people are motivated to focus on things because of the latest news cycle, but that is not what is intended here.

I want to deal with the specific amendments which we debated previously and which have been slightly amended since Committee Stage.

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