Cabinet confidentiality rules out bank guarantee probe

Brian Cowen: Minutes of crucial meeting off-limits

The Oireachtas banking inquiry has been advised it cannot investigate the dramatic, late-night ministerial talks which approved the infamous bank guarantee, because they are covered by Cabinet confidentiality.

The committee heard that the minutes of the 30-minute meeting and what former taoiseach Brian Cowen discussed with his ministers are off-limits, but documents and advice leading up to and after the Cabinet talks can be discussed.

Members were also told the cost of the Oireachtas inquiry could reach €5.2m, when staffing, legal and set-up costs are included.

Committee chairman Ciarán Lynch confirmed that it had been agreed that the inquiry would conclude its work by November of next year, and that a full proposal on its work will be ready this September, when the Dáil returns from its summer break.

However, legal advice given to members yesterday stated that questions cannot be asked about the infamous Cabinet meeting of the night of September 29, 2008, where the €440bn blanket bank guarantee was approved.

The committee was told that the meeting is covered by confidentiality rules, despite the passing of a referendum in 1997 which provided that the confidentiality of meetings of a Cabinet cannot prevent the High Court from ordering that certain information be disclosed when this is in the public interest.

Committee member Fianna Fáil TD Michael McGrath said this development would diminish the inquiry and that the probe should be judge-led instead.

Members were told that advice from banks and external advice could be inquired into, as well as the meetings that took place before the late-night Cabinet drama.

Fears about lawyers for witnesses incurring huge costs have also been played down after the committee was told witnesses will need to prove why they need legal support to get legal fees.

Up to €5.2 million is being set aside for the probe, which could begin its public hearings at the beginning of next year.

The estimated bill includes €3.7m for administration, legal and expert advice as well as support for members and the broadcasting of the probe.

Another €1.5m is for the set-up costs including the committee room’s facilities, IT and a special private room for members during hearings.

The committee is expected to review a more exact breakdown of costs at its meeting next week. Moreover, members hope to agree some type of scoping proposal on what periods and areas can be examined.


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