In October 2011, the Thirtieth Amendment to the Constitution to grant full investigative powers to Oireachtas committees investigating matters of public interest was rejected by more than 100,000 votes.
Had it been passed, it would have given them greater powers to compel evidence, to subpoena witnesses, and to make findings of fault and wrongdoing by individuals.
As yesterday’s final report shows, the committee was unable to do any of those things, despite months of hearings and trojan work by members, particularly chairman Ciarán Lynch who deserves credit for his handling of proceedings and his determination to make the inquiry operate to the fullest extent possible.
Nonetheless, there are few surprises arising from the inquiry which has found that no one single event or decision led to the failure of the banks in the lead-up to the banking crisis. They found that many senior bankers were greedy and irresponsible when dealing with other people’s money.
In its final report, published yesterday, the inquiry found that the crisis “was the cumulative result of a series of events and decisions over a number a years”.
The 375-page report is highly critical of the regulator, Central Bank, European Central Bank and the government.
The pity of it all is that the inquiry has not been able to name names or to make findings of wrongdoing on behalf of those who were central to the banking collapse.
At the time of the referendum, an unlikely confederacy of civil rights organisations, economists and bankers were influential in swaying the electorate to ensure that our elected representatives would not be given similar powers of investigation to those enjoyed in the United States and elsewhere.
The reality at the time was that people did not trust politicians — not without reason. The sad reality is that they succeeded in neutering the inquiry before it even began.
Anyone who followed the proceedings might have been surprised to observe the seriousness with which most members of the inquiry took on their task. Unlike Dáil proceedings, there was little if any grandstanding, no nascent in-fighting, only a determination to arrive at the truth.
It is a shame that two prominent inquiry members — Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty and Socialist Party leader Joe Higgins dissociated themselves from the final report.
Higgins 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. He can’t have it both ways. That restriction was clear from the start so he should have refused to take part.
Ciarán Lynch and his colleagues made the most of a flawed design. Perhaps their hard work and commitment will finally convince the Irish public that an Oireachtas committee with real teeth is something worth having.