Banking inquiry report: Toothless and deeply flawed report is a fitting portrayal of our broken political system

From left: Committee members Kieran O'Donnell TD, Michael McGrath TD, and Senator Marc MacSharry Pic: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Alas, it has come to pass.

The Oireachtas banking inquiry has produced its final report. And what a colossal waste of paper it is.

After months of chaos, internal wrangling and redrafts, the report’s failures, limitations and flaws were finally laid bare.

No matter how much the members of the inquiry yesterday attempted to sell its virtues, any cold assessment of the final report has to be on the balance of things overwhelmingly negative.

As someone who either sat through or read every line of testimony given at the inquiry over the past 13 months, the end result is a simply a gross insult to the taxpayer who has had to bear the cost of the crash.

Senator Marc MacSharry and committee chairman Ciarán Lynch during the report launch. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Senator Marc MacSharry and committee chairman Ciarán Lynch during the report launch. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

That total cost of the Irish financial crash was yesterday put at €100bn by Fine Gael’s Michael Darcy, who was one of a few decent performers at the inquiry.

Criticisms of the process are not necessarily directed at the 11 members of the committee, who sacrificed much time and energy to produce a report at all costs.

No, my criticisms for this farce lay with the Government, who insisted on a political inquiry.

It was Enda Kenny and his Cabinet who delayed for more than three years establishing the inquiry.

It was Enda Kenny who insisted on an Oireachtas inquiry.

A political circus, aimed at damaging Fianna Fáil, rather than going for a judicial-led inquiry where witnesses would have been probed far more aggressively than they were due to the ridiculous legal limitations imposed on it.

The inquiry was hamstrung before it began and the greatest losers in all of this were the taxpayers, who have been deprived of a proper examination of how the greatest financial crash in modern history occurred.

It was Enda Kenny who cynically moved to add two government senators — Darcy and Labour’s Susan O’Keeffe — to the inquiry team after they lost a vote to select members.

Enda Kenny
Enda Kenny

Defending his move, Kenny admitted he couldn’t rely on opposition members of the committee to do the right thing. Days later, independent TD Stephen Donnelly resigned from the inquiry before it began in protest at Enda’s arrogance.

Such a bloated team added needlessly to the length of sessions and meant repetition of questions was a frequent occurrence.

Then before Christmas we had the farce of the first draft of the report having to be scrapped as it was deemed to be in a woeful state.

Despite a major re-write by Eoghan Murphy and O’Keeffe, major difficulties remained and forced both Socialist TD Joe Higgins and Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty to abandon ship. But the greatest failures of the inquiry were the fundamental ones people like me flagged at the very beginning.

Pearse Doherty
Pearse Doherty

The report was never able to make adverse findings of fact against any one individual or institution.

Hence we have no explicit criticisms of specific bankers in what was a report into the banking crisis.

The inquiry also could not tackle what was the heart of the crisis — Anglo.

Banking inquiry report: Toothless and deeply flawed report is a fitting portrayal of our broken political system

Because the inquiry had to play second fiddle to ongoing cases in the courts, most of what happened in the most rotten bank in the world had to be ignored and danced around.

It was a case of Hamlet without the Prince.

That it also felt the need to spread the blame politically to all parties about their economic policies rather than put the boot into the likes of Brian Cowen, Charlie McCreevy and Bertie Ahern, speaks volumes.

One of the inquiry’s most colourful witnesses, US regulator Bill Black, decried the inquiry for being “fundamentally flawed” because it could not deal with the Anglo or Irish Nationwide material.

So, in the end we are left with tepid, insipid findings and recommendations which will carry no weight, and more importantly, affect no change whatsoever.

That is the greatest indictment of a Government that promised a new way of doing politics.

“On the 25th February a democratic revolution took place in Ireland. Old beliefs, traditions and expectations were blown away,” goes the Programme for Government agreed by Fine Gael and Labour.

“The stroke of a pen, in thousands of polling stations, created this political whirlwind. The public demanded change and looked to parties that would deliver the change they sought”.

“In that election record numbers of Irish people turned to, and chose, Fine Gael and Labour. The people chose our two parties to begin mending the pieces of a fractured society, a broken economy and to provide a sense of collective hope in our shared future,” the document states.

But, those promises have been roundly broken.

Our political system has seen precious little reform since the crash. In truth, you could argue the centralisation of power within the Cabinet over the Dáil has become more pronounced with the advent of the Economic Management Council.

That four-person committee within Cabinet is the real decision-making body in Irish politics these days and we have seen nothing of the democratic revolution that was promised.

But worse still, the sort of mistakes that led to the crash, which formed the basis of much of the testimony given at the committee and the final report, are being repeated again.

The EU Commission has warned the Government against repeating the mistakes of the past by narrowing the tax base and giving tax cuts when the economy is already booming.

This final report will quickly be consigned to the dustbin of history and its failures are a sorry but accurate reflection of our sorry political system.

Banking inquiry report: Toothless and deeply flawed report is a fitting portrayal of our broken political system

Key dates in the inquiry

December 17, 2014:

The inquiry begins with Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan; 130 more witnesses give evidence.

April 22, 2015:

NTMA CEO Brendan McDonagh confirms he was “kept out of the room” on bank guarantee night. Also confirms the NTMA wanted to stop Irish bank investment in 2007 due to concerns over the safety of deposits. 

April 30:

Ex-ECB head Jean Claude Trichet attends at a neutral Dublin Castle location. He denies he threatened finance minister Brian Lenihan in 2010 to enter a bailout. 

May:

Banks give contradictory accounts of guarantee night; Ex-financial regulator Patrick Neary finally apologises.

June 18:

Finance department’s ex-secretary general Kevin Cardiff confirms Ireland was “pushed, quite strongly” into a bailout. 

June/July:

Ex-taoisigh Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen deny they were too close to Anglo Irish. July 25:

Ex-Anglo Irish chief executive David Drumm refuses to attend inquiry due to US extradition hearings but denies reckless lending.

September 10:

Ex-IMF boss AJ Chopra confirms the ECB gave Ireland a bailout ultimatum. 

November/December/January, 2015/16:

The report is accused by its own members of not being fit for purpose.

 

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ECB went beyond mandate issuing ultimatum to Ireland, says former IMF mission chief ChopraECB went beyond mandate issuing ultimatum to Ireland, says former IMF mission chief Chopra

Lenihan wanted to burn bondholders and rebrand Anglo as 'An Banc Nua', inquiry toldLenihan wanted to burn bondholders and rebrand Anglo as 'An Banc Nua', inquiry told


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