Wednesday, 20 January 2010
Yesterday we had a number of questions, statements and the debate on a Labour Party motion in respect of the banking crisis and an investigation into that. The Government has published its proposals. Those proposals do not take into account the extent of public anger that is out there. I agree with the words of the Minister for Finance this morning when he said that what the public want to see is the law of the land implemented in respect of malpractice in banks and financial institutions.
Two investigations are ongoing in that regard, one by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement and another by the fraud squad. I had hoped those investigations would have been brought to a conclusion earlier, but they are proceeding. When one considers the back-to-back loans, for instance, that were in evidence, which were electronic transactions, an investigation could have been completed in two hours and a file prepared for the DPP. In any event, the position in so far as the Government is now concerned is that there will be no forensic analysis of regulatory and policy failures or internal and audit competency that the public will be able to see.
The public could see what happened with the committee of investigation into the Iraq war in Britain, or the financial inquiry commission in the United States. The Government has made a strong defence of the commission of investigation facility by saying the Murphy inquiry worked well, as did a number of other inquiries, which they did, but the victims in those cases were children who were victims of sexual abuse and the inquiries had to be held in private. The victims in these cases are the working taxpayers of this country who are now faced with pensions lost, negative equity, difficulty in paying mortgages and an understanding and perception that white collar crime does pay.
The way the Government published its proposals yesterday means there will be no forensic public analysis of what happened. It effectively means the Taoiseach, as a former Minister for Finance, who has said he wants to co-operate fully in any way he can, will not be called before an Oireachtas committee to give evidence. Why would that happen if what I assume is being talked about takes place, that the committee in question would be chaired by a member of the Fianna Fáil Party and would be most unlikely to call the Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, or the former Minister for Finance, Mr. Charlie McCreevy? In effect, the Government proposals for the scoping facility, the terms of reference for the commission of investigation and an Oireachtas committee being sidelined to the role of commentator means that there will not be public scrutiny and members of the public will not be able to see what happens in respect of the regulatory and policy failures that are concerned.
Does the Taoiseach accept that, in effect, following the proposals announced in a gushing fashion by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, after his green summit with Fianna Fáil, the Taoiseach will never have to give evidence in public to account for policy positions adopted by him and his colleagues in Government?
-----not what people think or assume are the causes, and to do so through the use of the best available expertise and in a timely and cost effective manner. The framework which has been brought forward by Government seeks to learn from the lessons of the past where inquiries have gone on for too long and to ensure that answers are obtained as quickly as possible and within a timeframe in which they can inform what needs to be done. Ireland's international reputation would not be assisted by an inefficient inquiry that is not focused. Such an inquiry would not serve the public as it would inhibit, not assist, the steps necessary for recovery.
Each of the three essential stages of the inquiry involves the Oireachtas or uses a process determined by it. The first stage involves a preliminary consideration of the causes of the regulatory failures and banking crisis by independent experts. The Oireachtas will be involved from the beginning because the Oireachtas committee will meet the Governor of the Central Bank and the independent expert or experts at the outset to brief them on the priorities of the Oireachtas for investigation. Those experts will independently consider what happened, provide their preliminary view on the causes, decide what needs to be done and the further investigation that needs to be carried out.
That method of inquiry has worked well in the past, most recently in the context of the Murphy report. The commission of investigation has been provided by the Oireachtas with all the powers the Oireachtas believes are necessary to enable it to investigate a matter of significant public concern. The tight timeline for the work will ensure the report of the commission is available to the Oireachtas for further consideration and action as quickly as possible thereafter. That method of inquiry has been supported and a law passed by the Oireachtas which some Members now seem to claim constitutes a whitewash. The third stage involves the consideration of the report by the Oireachtas and action by an appropriate Oireachtas committee. The suggestion that the inquiry is a whitewash because hearings will be in private makes no sense. It is the findings and recommendations that are of importance. These will be published, considered and debated.
Those that make the allegation of a whitewash are really complaining that not every wild allegation can be published or proffered. The public are interested in balanced findings that ascertain what went wrong and provide guidance as to how mistakes can be avoided in the future. We have outlined a means by which an independent statutory inquiry can take place by assembling the facts through the reports that will be done by the governor and an independent expert, and to proceed thereafter as the Oireachtas sees fit.
It may well be that the governor of the Central Bank, a person to whom no fault can be imputed, wants an inquiry because the Central Bank was obviously centrally involved in this.
I want to ask the Taoiseach two further questions. First, he said that when the commission of investigation completes its work, it will all be done in private. The findings of the commission of investigation, as the Taoiseach said, will be published, considered and debated by the Oireachtas committee, presumably under the control of a Fianna Fáil chairman. What is the function of that consideration if, for example, somebody produces evidence of a "deep throat" nature that was not considered by the commission of investigation? Will the Oireachtas committee have the opportunity and responsibility for further investigation, if necessary? Will it be in a position to change the published findings of the commission of investigation if such evidence were to come forward?
Second, my contention is that, under the current structure, neither the Taoiseach, Mr. Charlie McCreevy or Deputy Bertie Ahern, as people involved in the Department of Finance and high political office, will be required to give evidence in public. However, I take the Taoiseach at his word. He has said on more than one occasion that he always accepts responsibility for his actions, he stands over them and he wants to co-operate in whatever way is possible in the public interest. I accept that. If that is the case, he will be aware that the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004, section 11, clearly states:
A commission shall conduct its investigation in private unless—
(a) a witness requests that all or part of his or her evidence be heard in public and the commission grants the request,
(b) the commission is satisfied that it is desirable in the interests of both the investigation and fair procedures to hear all or part of the evidence of a witness in public.
I would like the Taoiseach to confirm now to the Dáil that, because there are no constitutional or legal impediments to a forensic analysis of the policy decisions that the Taoiseach directed as Minister for Finance and as Taoiseach, those hearings of the commission of investigation will be held in public in accordance with section 11 of the 2004 Act. That would go some small way to at least enabling the public to see some people answer for policy decisions that were taken when they were given that responsibility. Will the Taoiseach direct, as is his right, that the terms of the reference for the commission of investigation stipulate that the policy analysis of himself and his fellow Ministers and predecessors will be heard in public?
As the Deputy said, the commission of investigation is set up under the relevant Act and it can decide to meet in public in whatever way it wishes. I have no problem dealing with these matters in any way that enables me to deal with my public duties and discharge them publicly. I am accountable to this House on a daily basis for every decision I have made both now and in the past. I have no problem in regard to any of these matters as to how the commission wishes to proceed and I will facilitate all of that without any difficulty in terms of how I deal with my responsibilities. The commission of investigation is set up under the Act. It determines how it proceeds and I will comply with any procedure that arises. There is no problem on my part.
The interaction between the Department, the Central Bank, the regulator and all the rest is a part of the scoping exercise that will be conducted by the Central Bank governor and the independent expert. Arising out of and based on the conclusions that will come from those reports, terms of reference will be decided upon by the Oireachtas. Whatever emerges and has to be investigated, the Government and every one of its members will facilitate, assist and co-operate in every way possible. We are obliged to do that anyway. I have no problem whatever with that. The continuing political charge that the Deputy makes that in some way-----
-----Deputy Brian Cowen has a problem with the tribunal is nonsense. What I did say from the outset as Taoiseach, and have always said, is that these matters must have careful consideration. We have seen in the past, in the aftermath of tribunals of inquiry held under other Acts, that every time one is held, someone says "We will never do it this way again" and they then jump straight in and we have another one that goes on for ten or 12 years at a cost of €200 million or €300 million to the taxpayer.
Taxpayers are saying we should deal with the facts. Let us deal with the background and causes of this problem, let us get it out there so the facts can be assembled, let us do it in a way that employs the necessary expertise to do it, let the commission of investigation be brought into effect after that, based on terms of reference decided here, which we will all discuss, and let people go in and give their positions based on any investigation that the commission wishes to conduct. That is the position. There is no ambiguity about it. There is no reluctance on my part whatsoever. I have a responsibility to discharge and I will discharge it. I hope the Deputy will do the same.
The Taoiseach's response to the call for a public inquiry - I heard the Minister for Finance this morning making the same point - is to attack the idea of a tribunal. Nobody is proposing the establishment of a tribunal. What the Labour Party has proposed is that there should be a parliamentary inquiry similar to the DIRT inquiry. The Government should stop knocking something that has not been proposed in the first place.
There are two issues here, first, whether the inquiry will be public or private. Fianna Fáil wants a private inquiry. The rest of us want a public inquiry. The decision on that will be made tonight when we vote on the Labour Party motion and every Member of the House, including the Green Party Ministers and Deputies who claim they want a public inquiry, will have the opportunity to vote for a private or public inquiry at 8.30 p.m.
What I want to concentrate on is the content of the Government's proposed inquiry. Yesterday, the Minister for Finance said that inquiry would not be permitted to examine decisions taken by the Government since the crisis erupted, such as the nationalisation of Anglo Irish Bank or the decision to introduce the bank guarantee scheme. I heard him on radio this morning making a similar suggestion.
Suppose the British Government took that approach to the current inquiry on the Iraq war, which we see on television. It would have an inquiry which would be questioning whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and what the United Nations discussed and decided, but the only thing into which it would not be able to inquire would be the British Government's decision to go to war, which of course would have the convenient consequence that Mr. Blair would not have to appear as a witness, as he is on Friday, and nor would Mr. Hoon.
What the Government is doing here is setting up an inquiry into everything about banking, including the international context, except the Government's own decisions, such as the critical decision to introduce the guarantee scheme, which is what has locked the Irish taxpayer into paying for the banking crisis. There were several issues involved in September 2008, particularly on 29 September 2008, which require to be investigated and require answers. With whom did members of the Government meet on that date? Why was a decision taken to give a guarantee to Anglo Irish Bank?
We can understand the systemic importance of the two big banks with branches in every town in Ireland but why did the Government decide to give a guarantee to what was a piggy bank for rogue developers in many cases, as we now know? We have seen that within four months it had to be nationalised, with huge sums of the taxpayers' hard-earned money put in to keep it afloat. These decisions should be investigated.
Why did the Government decide, for example, to include dated subordinated debt, which I asked about at the time but did not get an answer in the debate on the guarantee scheme? With whom did the Government members meet on the day it was decided to bring in the guarantee scheme? Was a Bill prepared, as we heard, on that occasion to nationalise Anglo Irish Bank prior to the introduction of the guarantee scheme? Why did it not proceed?
What the Government is proposing will exclude any investigation of these issues. Will the Taoiseach agree, at a minimum, to include in this process of investigation of any kind concerning the banking system the decisions made by the Government in September 2008, the reasons for them and the discussions which were had leading to them?
The fact is we had to get state aid approval from the European Commission for that decision. The reason the decision was approved by the European Commission was because it was necessary in the view of the Commission to avoid a meltdown in the banking system of this country at that time-----
That fact is not controverted by the European Commission. That state aid approval given for the State guarantee confirms the necessity of the decision. The Deputy will continue to come to this House for the next 18 months as he has for the past 18 months saying he did not agree with that decision. That is fine as it is his position. The consequences of going with his policy position at the time would have been a meltdown in the financial system.
We can hear their opinions on whether Anglo Irish Bank should have been saved at that stage. Some €11 billion of taxpayers' money has gone into these banks to date. Within four months of the Government introducing a guarantee for Anglo Irish Bank, it had to be nationalised. The cost is enormous. We can leave aside the issue of whether the inquiry will be held in public or private for a moment as it will be decided by a vote tonight, and everybody can make up their own mind on it and answer for their vote to the electorate afterwards.
The critical element is that the Government is excluding - even from the private inquiry it is now conceding - the critical decision in respect of Anglo Irish Bank in particular. This was a delinquent bank and rotten apple at the heart of the banking system which lent money recklessly. We saw a recent "Prime Time" programme on what was happening in some of the institutions. On 29 September 2008, the Government took the decision to give a State guarantee to that institution as it was to Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Banks on the grounds that it was of systemic importance. That is the big conundrum and such a major question requires answers. No answers have been provided for that here.
This is one of the issues I want to see examined and investigated by whatever type of inquiry is established but it has been excluded from the Government's proposals.
I will say the following to the Taoiseach. I believe he is excluding the issue for political purposes. What he is now establishing is not an inquiry into what went wrong in the banking system so that we can learn from it. He is establishing something to cover the tracks of bad decisions made by him and his Government for whatever reason, which is not acceptable to us and I do not believe it will be acceptable to the public.
Much of what the Deputy had to say was contention and assertion dressed up as fact. He has claimed it was a bad idea and I accept that he disagrees with the decision for the State to provide a guarantee for the banks.
The European Commission approved that process because it was necessary. That is a criterion on which to approve the process. The Commission indicated clearly that it was. When we subsequently amended the State guarantee and went beyond the September 2010 deadline for certain types of debt, the Commission reaffirmed the necessity to continue with that guarantee in the way we have proceeded.
John Moloney (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Listening might be of more use.
I have listened with respect to the Deputy's leader and I ask for a bit of respect in return. The issue of public and private inquiries has been raised. The UK is on its fourth inquiry on the Iraq issue, I understand.
On the issue of a public or private inquiry, if we go for a public inquiry, as the Deputy suggests, in re Haughey procedures come into place and we know where that will lead in terms of procedure, time and cost. We came to this House in 2004 to learn from those lessons of the past under the various tribunals of another Act. We said there would be a committee of investigation giving us the benefit of tribunal-like powers for the commission but not the costs associated with tribunals in the past and the time lags involved in proceeding with issues of public concern. Under the Act they are supposed to be matters of urgent public importance but they are still being considered a dozen years on.
We came to this House and debated the matter, bringing forward a process as a means by which we could act. It is independent and statutory and if we are going to denigrate the people who will be asked to do this job before we even start, that is perhaps an indication of the disposition and demeanour of the people criticising it.
It will be an independent statutory inquiry. On 1 December, less than two months ago, people stood up on all sides of this House and praised how we had, through that process, come forward with a report from Mr. Justice Murphy dealing with issues which were in the darkest parts of Irish society for 50 years. We were able to come forward with a process that provided clarity and graphic detail in many matters before that commission.
If we are interested in the findings and getting to the facts, causes and background of the situation we are in, let us deal with the process, which has been tried and tested and has proved its credibility to the public as a means of dealing with the matter. We should do the job that is necessary and provide the expertise that is required, given the complexity of the issues with which we are dealing. We should make sure we deal with all aspects of the matter and then come to this House on the basis of assembling those facts and decide what it is we want to do at that stage. That is a matter for the Oireachtas to decide, but it is also clear from the Supreme Court and elsewhere that the question of using Oireachtas committees for the purpose of bringing forward facts, which are controverted, is not a means by which we can operate in a way that will have full constitutional protection. What we are better off doing is getting on with what we have achieved and what has been proven to work. We should make that happen and then the Oireachtas can deal with it. At every stage of the process we have ensured there will be an Oireachtas involvement.
We do not need an inquiry at all according to them because they know exactly what went on but I am prepared, following the completion of these two scoping reports, to let an independent statutory inquiry decide on those matters and I am in a position to assist in any way possible to achieve that.