Posted by Eoin O’Malley (15 July, 2010)
Even if there is no inquiry into the events leading to the decision on the Bank Guarantee Scheme, the Dáil Public Accounts Committee release of many of the relevant documents today, should allow us to draw some conclusions about the adequacy of the process, information etc. The documents are available here, there should be 56 up by the end of the day.
It would be useful if there were some sort if Inquiry which could call civil servants, ministers, the Taoiseach, bankers and others who where there or whose advice was sought. Maybe the PAC could do this – along the lines of the Dirt Inquiry. The problem with PAC, however, and parliamentary inquiries in general is that they can be seen as partisan. Dirt may have worked because the Banks were the potential villains. Another problem is the limitations on Oireachtas Inquiries regarding compellability of witnesses, and that Oireachtas inquiries do not have the power to make findings of fact or expressions of opinion adverse to the good name or reputation of citizens (and presumably non-citizens?). Another problem is the time they take – TDs have other work to do and may not be able to commit the time to do the Inquiry properly, though staff can presumably be made available to alleviate this problem.
If the main purpose of the Inquiry is to prevent re-occurrence, rather than apportion blame then some of these issues would not be relevant. However we presumably also want such Inquiries to act as a deterrent to bad policy-making in the future, so perhaps it would be better to take it out of the hands of the Oireachtas. The question then arises whether it should be a judge (which it usually is – the state seems to consider judges to be the only humans alive with integrity!), or someone with some expertise. One could use a former civil servant, but there’d the fear that this could lead to a whitewash. Former SG in Communications, Brendan Touhy could do it. I suspect he would be above suspicion of producing a whitewash.
UPDATE –What was released to the press last night (presumably by the government) supports the government line that it was given bad information, and that Patrick Neary’s to blame was more interesting than anything else here.
In fact much of it relates to what the department thought it knew regarding financial stability in the year up to the collapse. Of those documents that relate to the Guarantee Scheme itself, much of was in the public domain already – if not in this format. So we have speaking notes for the minister. But the letter from the Secretary General indicates they won’t give anything confidential out. So the memo to government (if they actually managed to get anything on paper, reasonable enough if they did not given the rush) is not there, nor are notes from conversations between the minister and the Taoiseach or the minister and his civil servants. It’s hard to accept the commercial sensitivity line used to withhold some of the documents relating to the Banks – we now know that most of it was made up, or certainly based on optimistic assumptions and hardly commercially sensitive now. In fact the SG makes this point.