In terms of this morning’s news from the Minister for Finance, it is not entirely clear whether we have a decision or a proposal. We were told this morning the justification for the decision is to avert a catastrophe and the word “catastrophe” was used quite liberally. It is a big word, particularly when until recently we were told Irish banks did not have liquidity problems and there were no fundamental difficulties with their position. However, the word “catastrophe” has now been used.
Politicians on all sides have a responsibility to hold back and wait to hear the rationale for the proposal being brought forward and to debate it carefully. However, the public is entitled to have spelled out to it what momentous catastrophe would happen if this decision was not made. We are entitled to be told that and not have to guess at it. We should be told precisely what was likely to happen and the consequences of this decision not being made.
What are those consequences? I do not refer to general issues and suggestions that we should look to what is happening in the United States or that if we do not act the sky may fall in. I want more detail because the Irish people are entitled to be told the precise nature of the so-called catastrophe – that is not my word – which we are seeking to avert. We can then compare the action that is proposed with the consequences of not taking it. I support what has been said by others in regard to the level of scrutiny that is needed of the banks and financial institutions if this proposal is to be adopted.
We are a far cry from the point some months ago when the banks appeared before the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service. This is the most momentous economic decision that has been taken in a considerable period of time. Surely an argument can at least be made for the establishment of an Oireachtas committee. Sometimes we are criticised for having too many committees, but if there was ever a need for an Oireachtas committee dedicated to a central economic question, surely it is now. There is a compelling argument for a committee to deal with banks and the banking system so that Members of the Oireachtas can be afforded opportunities on a regular basis to scrutinise the banks, understand precisely what is occurring and raise questions about the history of loose and reckless lending and the issue of executive salaries. Such a committee would also provide a forum through which Irish people can ensure that banks and financial institutions pay for this extraordinary bail-out and what I heard the Minister for Finance describe as “succour”.
I sat in my car and reached for the Kleenex tissues at one point while listening to the Minister. I know it is important not to make light of this issue but he claimed that the measures had to be taken in regard to these six Irish banks because they had nowhere else to go for succour. I had a different kind of “succour” in mind when I heard that phrase from the Minister and it is the Irish taxpayer who is potentially being turned into a sucker in this.