ECB officials urged to appear at bank inquiry

The ECB has given a cool response to suggestions its officials should appear before the Oireachtas banking inquiry, whose members believe fresh questions have been raised with the release of correspondence from the height of the eurozone crisis.

Letters from its former president Jean-Claude Trichet to the then finance minister, the late Brian Lenihan, show the ECB threatened to cut off vital emergency funding to the country’s banking sector in November 2010 unless the Fianna Fáil-led government immediately sought a bailout and entered an austerity programme.

The ECB said it was releasing four letters — which have been kept secret despite three years of persistent attempts by journalists to view them — to address the “misconception” that it forced Ireland into the €67.5bn bailout programme.

“As the letters and all the documentation aim to show, it was not the letter that ‘pushed Ireland into a programme’ as is sometimes claimed, but it was the scale of the domestic crisis,” the ECB said.

Fianna Fáil disputed this, with finance spokesman Michael McGrath saying: “Clearly there were very significant domestic problems, but those problems were being faced up to. What we had here was a powerful European institution exceeding its mandate and essentially bullying a sovereign government into accepting a bailout.” He said Mr Trichet, or his successor Mario Draghi, should appear before the banking inquiry.

Tánaiste Joan Burton said the publication of the letters will “free up” people who the inquiry may wish to interview.

The chairman of the committee which will conduct the inquiry, Labour’s Ciaran Lynch, said the letters “raise a series of questions” that the inquiry should examine.

Mr Draghi said the issue has not yet been considered: “The ECB is accountable to the European Parliament, not necessarily to national parliaments.”

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