What is stopping the Govt having a public inquiry into banks?

The type of inquiry into the banking system a committee of the Oireachtas may undertake is a live issue in the country. The Supreme Court decision in the Abbeylara case is in place, on which I have two brief points to make. First, there is the question of the restrictions on the Oireachtas in making findings of fact which could touch on the personal culpability of individuals. I understand clearly that there is such a caveat contained within that decision. Second, there is the issue as to whether the Oireachtas ever had lawful authority to carry out such inquiries. These issues are very much on the table.

My party brought forward legislation in the other House to deal with the second of these two issues, but it was rejected by the Government. On the first issue, I do not accept that it is not possible for a committee of the Oireachtas to hold a meaningful inquiry into what went wrong in the banking system without touching on the personal culpability of individuals because there are other places in which that matter should be dealt with. I am a strong supporter of those who say the criminal justice system is where criminal charges ought to be dealt with.

However, this does not prevent serious politicians who claim to have credibility from having an inquiry into the lending practices of the banks to determine what strategies were in place, why AIB and Bank of Ireland now proclaim they had a difficulty because Anglo Irish Bank was doing certain things and they had to follow suit. We need to know what strategies were employed and the history of regulation, including that by politicians. These issues do not turn on the personal culpability of individuals in terms of the level of criminality, rather they are legitimate questions which ought to be pursued in a public inquiry. I believe they could be dealt with, without any worries on a constitutional level, by a committee of the Oireachtas.

The second issue I want to raise can be addressed by the Government, that is, the extraordinary statement or indication to the effect that the commission of inquiry will hold its investigations other than in public. What is the reason for this secrecy? What is the exact position? Last Monday, the hapless Senator Boyle was telling the country that the Green Party was going to a deliver a public inquiry. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, has learned a great deal since he went into Government because he is telling us that black is white and that the inquiry will be held in public. It is a question of saying, in effect, “Well, we are a small party in government; we tried and pushed, but could not deliver.” However, the Minister does not say this, rather he says it will be held in public. What exactly is going on?

Apparently, the Taoiseach said this morning that the commission of inquiry could decide to hold hearings in public. That is a different line. If he is prepared to contemplate the commission of inquiry deciding to hold hearings in public, what is stopping the Government from including it in the terms of reference that the inquiry will be held in public? There is an overwhelming public interest in this inquiry being held in public. The impact of what has happened to the banks and those to whom they loaned money is in the public domain. The 300,000 empty houses are there to be seen plainly by everybody and the impact on people’s lives is also there to be seen. There should be an inquiry and it should be held in public.