By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith
The "cabal" of senior politicians, bankers, bondholders and developers in place during the economic crash should have been jailed despite the fact "99.9%" of what they did was legal, an ousted ex-bank inquiry member has claimed.
Socialist Party leader Joe Higgins drew the damning conclusion in an alternative minority report version of the bank inquiry report, published this morning just hours before the official document is released.
Speaking to reporters at a press conference in the Merrion Hotel in Dublin city centre where Troika officials stayed during the bailout, the Dublin West TD said the official report he refused to sign off on will fall far short of what is required.
And in a clear divergence from what is expected to be in the official findings, he said "the reckless behaviour that inflated the bubble and caused the crash should have been criminalised" and that senior politicians, bankers, bondholders and developers in charge at the time "should have been facing jail instead of golden pensions".
In a 146-page broad-side at the capitalist economic system and its impact on Ireland's social fibre, Mr Higgins said the "bubble government" of then taoisigh Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen, alongisde then tánaiste Mary Harney, finance minister Charlie McCreevy and others of serving "the interests of bankers and developers, not those of ordinary people".
He was equally critical of then opposition leader and current Taoiseach Enda Kenny, accusing him of being a "silent non-opposition" to the "cut throat competition and reckless lending" that took place during the period.
And in a warning to current legislation and the potential return of the same mistakes which caused the crash, he said the true horror of what happened is that "99.9% of what caused the crash was "perfectly legal" - meaning the lead-up to and result of the 2008 financial disaster is destined to happen again.
"It is often bemoaned that a miniscule number of former bankers - and no developers - have been charged with any crimes arising out of the blowing up of a gargantuan bubble of property speculation up to 2008 that saw six Irish banks shovelling out massive loans and reaping massive short term profits, before an inevitable and catastrophic crash.
"99.9% of what was done was entirely legal. That's why most of them will never be in the courts. The criminal behaviour should not have been allowed," he said.
Mr Higgins said the "villain of the piece" is the "cabal of speculators and bondholders assisted by leading politicians of the day" and that while they do not include members of the bank inquiry their own official report will not highlight this as they come from the same party gene-pools.
The Socialist Party leader was also highly critical of developers who he said "didn't believe" there would ever be a soft landing but became "blinded" by profit, hit out at the restrictions on questions from inquiry members by the investigation's own lawyers and that "of course it [the crash] will happen again because it will be allowed".
Despite the official inquiry document reportedly laying much of the blame for what happened on the Financial Regulator and Central Bank for failing to prevent the crash, he urged reporters not to let the individuals he named off the hook.
"I foresee a big push to put responsibility on the regulator. I've no doubt senior politicians will be out to hang all responsibility on the regulator. They must not be allowed to do so," he said.
While he sat through all of the inquiry's year of public evidence and private meetings, Mr Higgins refused to sign off on the document late last year due to concerns over its findings and whether it would adequately explain what happened.
He and Sinn Féin finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty were the only two of the 11-strong team of bank inquiry TDs and senators to refused to back the final document.
Asked about the issue today and rumours he never intended to agree to the official document, Mr Higgins said he had been working on his own report "all my life" before accepting the first final draft of the official inquiry in October - which he said did not include his findings - was when he ultimately decided to leave the investigation.
He was heavily critical of the inquiry itself, saying even if there was clear evidence of wrongdoing by an individual this could not be stated if the individual disputed the evidence - which almost all people involved did.
Dismissing the official inquiry's reported findings, he said: "They talk about a commercial property register. I mean if that's the apex of their findings, well how could I sign that?".