Tuesday, 2 February 2016
Joint Committee of Inquiry into the Banking Crisis: Statements
It was an honour and a responsibility to be a member of the banking inquiry. I use the word "responsibility" advisedly because it was a difficult and at times a frustrating task. My wise colleague, Senator D'Arcy, described it as a partial report. That is a very good short version of what happened because it was partial for so many different reasons. I will refer to some of them.
Before I continue I wish to acknowledge that while a book has been produced as part of the report on improvements that might be done, there is one thing that we ought to never repeat and that is we should never again have any committee that has ten men and one woman sitting on it. Setting that aside as the one women on the inquiry, I believe the report we produced - I thank the Minister of State for his gracious remarks - does bring a new coherence to the story of the banking crisis that affected so many of us in so many different ways.It also reveals many of the small details on many fronts that were otherwise consigned to files marked "Secret" or, possibly, to the shredder.
As I wrote in The Irish Timeslast week, I believe this banking inquiry is part of the growing up of this nation. We are so used to deference, patronage and secrecy, which I believe is a very damaging cocktail whose legacy is ours to destroy. For me, the inquiry is another piece of that work.We were not experts but we were there on behalf of the people. That is the important part and that is what parliamentary accountability is about. The people, not through experts or judges but through their public representatives, did not permit those who made poor or selfish decisions to hide, even though, of course, not all the questions were answered. They definitely were not.
I have some examples of how those questions were not answered. We still do not know what happened on the night of the guarantee. We do not know what the banks said in that meeting because there are no records. There are not even records of the documents they brought to those meetings. We know they brought them but we do not know what they were. We do not know how far they went in asking for a guarantee or what kind of guarantee they asked for precisely. We do not know precisely what Alan Gray said to the then Taoiseach in that conversation because there are no records.
Before the former taoisigh came before the inquiry, I noted in an e-mail that no letters that passed between the Minister for Finance and the Taoiseach's office were given to us for that entire period of time. There were no letters between the Minister for Finance and the Taoiseach. There were no records of any private meetings. There were no minutes, diaries, speeches, replies to parliamentary questions or records of phone calls. There was nothing at all. It strikes me as a very large gap if both the Taoiseach's office and the Minister for Finance's office have no documentation. It is clear there is a problem. When we come to talking about accountability, we also have to face up to the fact that while we have done a job and have taken steps, we have more steps to take.
Last Sunday, the Sunday Business Postproduced some documents it has apparently received from someone in the Department of Finance, which are documents we did not see during our inquiry. Many of these were memos to Government. They were from the period 2009 to 2010. I do not know what other documents are there but I know we did not see these ones. What does that mean? It means there are other documents we have not seen. That is a problem. Therefore, we have to work very hard to ensure that when we talk about accountability we really mean it.
The question we then have to ask is whether we should have gone ahead. Should we have persisted despite the problems we actually knew about, including the lack of time, the fact that the legislation was quite limiting, the lack of answers and documents, the fact that Anglo Irish Bank could not be discussed because it was tied up in legal matters and, of course, the passing of the former Minister, Brian Lenihan? I believe we had to go ahead and that we had to keep going. We had to persevere.
I thank my fellow members. In the main, as Senator D'Arcy has said, we did leave our so-called political jerseys at the door. We did work hard to try to work together as a team of people interested in accountability and not our own political leanings.
We have to learn from the weaknesses of what went before. As I said, in the second part of our report we discussed those weaknesses. Why would we walk away now from that kind of process, as some commentators, who were not in the room for much of what happened, suggested? Why would we walk away from the process now? Are we afraid of something else? Are we afraid that we might not have had all the questions answered? When are we ever going to get all the questions answered? That is not a good enough reason to give up this kind of parliamentary inquiry.
Before I finish, I thank my assistant, Geoff McEvoy, who is in the Visitors' Gallery this evening. It might be said he is here to the bitter end. We were blessed with such hard-working assistants. Without them, the inquiry would have been much the poorer.