ONE of the silly habits we indulge in instead of real, game-changing, reforming action is the cynical idea that making rules to try to prevent some sort of behaviour, or more likely misbehaviour, resolves whatever problem the solution is aimed at.
We imagine that by, say, banning smoking in cars carrying children that we have resolved an issue and strengthened our culture around child protection and public health awareness. Once the legislation is on the books we close the book and forget about enforcement — intent is not matched by commitment and the integrity of our entire system is tarnished. We fool ourselves imagining a problem has been resolved when it has just been brushed under a carpet of indifference.
This simple but undermining principle has given rise to decades of tribunals of inquiry, all established with the highest of motives — we are assured — but all nearly worn down to something pretty close to irrelevance by meandering, endless evidence and legal challenge after legal challenge. By the time most of those multi-million inquiries reach something approaching a conclusion it must be viewed through the prism of history rather than current affairs — even if those conclusions cannot include a finding of fact against an individual!
We are, at this very moment, at that point once again. Our terribly constrained and long-deferred banking inquiry struggles with what seems interminable labour pains. Just as the Oireachtas inquiry team signs off on a final report, a point reached after considerable and fraught revision, two property developers have threatened legal action.
Michael O’Flynn and Johnny Ronan made lengthy submissions requesting a number of statements be omitted suggesting that evidence from the National Asset Management Agency was accepted by the committee without question. Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen has also fired a shot across the committee’s bows claiming the report impugned his good name. Mr Cowen claimed some of the statements included were “leading and prejudicial”.
The banking inquiry is not the only investigation struggling with entirely predictable and damaging challenges at the moment.
The MacLochlainn Commission of Investigation — the one considering the fatal shooting of a Real IRA member by gardaí — is sinking into the usual quagmire of delay and underestimated costs. Its costs are already more than double the opening estimate and schedules have been revised upwards suggesting the process will take at least three times longer than was anticipated. Significantly, the revised cost estimates do not not include legal costs or expenses for witnesses which, if history is any guide, will be considerable.
The accumulated evidence of all public inquiries, concluded and ongoing, is an irrefutable indictment of our investigative process. Rather than being unflinching, effective way of establish the truth leading to change they have become a labyrinth of evasion and stifled posturing. As ever the only real question remains — who really benefits from this?
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