Tuesday, 2 February 2016
Joint Committee of Inquiry into the Banking Crisis: Statements
I join others in commending the outstanding work done by our colleagues, Senators Michael D'Arcy, Susan O'Keeffe, Sean D. Barrett and Marc MacSharry, on which I congratulate them. I also welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Simon Harris.
I agree fully with the view expressed that any future inquiry of this nature must be strengthened. It would be a waste of taxpayers' money if we were to go down the same road again. On whatever legal experts can come up with, I am sure it will be a formula that will address the concerns of former Attorneys General that changed the public mood in the days leading up to the referendum. It is not beyond their capacity to do something along these lines as it happens in all other parliaments. The American model is an example. It should be able to guarantee the legal rights of those appearing before such an inquiry and conclude with facts in order that persons, where there is wrongdoing, will face sanctions. A parliamentary inquiry should not be a cosmetic exercise. I do not suggest this one was because the inquiry members operated within strict parameters and did an excellent job.
From a purely partisan party position, there is no question whatsoever - I am not suggesting it came from the Government but it was certainly being aired around the country - that it was an attempt by the Government to taint Fianna Fáil even further, but that has not happened. In fact, if anything, for the general public, what has come from the conclusions made in the report is that what happened in the relevant period was much more complex, that it involved a variety of stakeholders that had contributed to what happened and, not least, that it had coincided with an international crash of almost biblical proportions.
In coming here I cannot help but reflect on how we should address what will happen next. There is an old cliché that those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it. Three or four years ago a book was published in which the economic progress made in countries across the world from the 12th century was tracked. Rather interestingly, was called This Time Is Different. In each economic cycle governments or rulers, in taking economic decisions, stated, "We will do this because, even though we know what happened the last time, this time it will be different." If this is a political point, I make it unashamedly. The Government is already indicating, in the way it is fighting the general election, that it will narrow the tax base. This will result in reduced services and another crash because all of economic indicators show that we are in for troubled times in the next 12 to 18 months. The Government's economic projections are based on good times returning and continuing without any consideration being given to the developing international crisis, particularly as a result of the slowdown in China and the American economy not powering ahead in the way it should. The United Kingdom economy is already suffering to a degree. I am unashamedly making the political point which I know deserves a political answer. That is my view based on all that I have read.
I am sorry to say the Government of the Labour Party and Fine Gael does not seem to have learned from what is contained in the report, that between 2003 and 2007 the Fianna Fáil-led Government narrowed the tax base to such an extent that, despite the surpluses in 2006 and 2007 when the former Taoiseach Mr. Brian Cowen, as Minister for Finance, was being lauded as the man of Europe for the manner in which he was looking after the economy, two years later everything had gone belly-up. Despite what is contained in the report about all of the gathering clouds in 2003 and 2004, it made me ask myself, "My God, is hindsight not a wonderful thing?" With 20/20 vision, suddenly everybody now says he or she knew this was going to happen when, in fact, very few predicted that it would. In 2007, in their election manifestos, both Fine Gael and the Labour Party were looking for greater spending. The Labour Party, in particular, wanted to see an easing of the tax on housing. It wanted it to be reduced. These are the political realities emerging from the report produced and I am not taking little bits to suit myself. For goodness sake, will the Government get real? We are in a totally different economic position than we were ten or 15 years ago.
It has already been indicated that auction politics are being engaged in by both Fine Gael and the Labour Party, as can be seen in the promises the Minister of State is making. The Government is making promises of tax cuts based on a hope the economy will continue to drive ahead without taking account of international considerations, in much the same way as the previous Administration did.