The second half of RTE Radio 1’s Saturday with Claire Byrne today had a discussion of the banking crises and whether there should be an inquiry. On the programme were Eamon Ryan (Green Party and former Minister); Simon Carswell ( Irish Times) and Stephen Donnelly (TD.)
Podcast available here:
RTÉ - Saturday with Claire Byrne
Reference were made to a number of commissioned reports on the banking sector that have already been carried out, including the Nyberg one and one done by Patrick Honahan.
In response to a question from Claire Byrne as to whether we need another inquiry, Eamon Ryan said that he thought we did and he would look forward to saying what he knew at an Oireachtas Inquiry. He said that after the night of the guarantee he began to engage a lot with the issues. He also said he thought NAMA would ultimately make a profit. (On that, my understanding is that NAMA may make a profit on the discounted loans they took on, but NAMA don’t intend to pay back the full loans developers took out, which the public had been told at the time NAMA would be responsible for paying back – or have I got that wrong ??)
I thought Stephen Donnelly made some good points. He said that he thought that an Oireachtas Committee inquiry would not be good – he pointed out that there are 27 members on the Finance Committee – they represent different political parties and are therefore not neutral and would be trying to make political swipes. He also said a majority on the committee would not be experts on the subject by any means. Playing to the media was also mentioned. I think he also said the Cabinet can tell Oireachtas Committees what to do, but I may not have picked that up right? I also think he said that in his view the Public Accounts Committee would be similarly unsuitable. He also made the point that the Committees would be better off not spending a huge amount of their limited time looking at the past, rather that they should spend their time on the present and the future.
Another point made on the show was that the property bubble was so extreme, the lending so reckless that we were going to have to deal with it in all cases and laying the blame on the “Night of the Guarantee” is pointless. (Claire did point out that the extent of the guarantee was a key factor in our current debt.) Ryan mentioned a few times that they were trying to stop the situation descending into total chaos.
There was a discussion as well as to whether the Irish public were collectively to blame – the “we all partied” syndrome and to the Irish society consensus “the lack of other voices,” particularly in the media. They all seemed to agree the media had played a (negative) role. Donnelly came out strongly against the public taking collective responsibility for what happened – he said that we can’t lay the blame on the negative equity generation – they weren’t financial experts and were advised to take out the loans.
This got me to thinking as to whether we should still have an inquiry. Is it pointless or is there something to gain? Is it still too soon and our position too unresolved? One thing I would still like to know is what discussions took place on the night of the guarantee. Who was present – was it just Cowen and Lenihan or were there others present? What was the disagreement between the pair that night? (This was often alluded to, but we were never told who was on what side.) It would be nice to have an inquiry where Cowen explained what happened from his perspective, where the various bankers explained the banking policies they had pursued, their understanding of what was happening in the banks and what representations and explanations they made to the Government. It would also be good to hear from senior officials as to what they had felt should be done and what they had advised and to hear from special advisors, consultants, private bankers, economists, regulators and any others that had provided advice.
I'm not sure whether we can have closure unless we have some kind of full and open public discussion of people who played a key role. I don't think it's in anyone's interest to have any kind of non-neutral inquiry, as that would just be a waste of money and ultimately unhelpful for the public psyche and for society. A tribunal with a fixed timeframe and run by a neutral expert to me would seem like a good idea – where it can call people to give evidence like other tribunals could. We don’t want another 10 year tribunal where millions in legal fees are forked out. Rather a tribunal with a specific agenda, a fixed timeframe (e.g. 2 years) and a fixed reasonable absolute maximum budget. I’m not sure why this hasn’t been done? Is it because of potential legal cases and a fear these might be prejudiced? One of the points mentioned on the show was about a more limited subgroup of the Oireactas perhaps carrying out such an inquiry.
What do you think?