Following much discussion, and almost six years after the infamous bank guarantee was put in place by the Irish State, the process of establishing a parliamentary inquiry into the collapse of the Irish banking system, made up of members of the Oireachtas (the “Banking Inquiry”), has finally begun.
On 14 May 2014, formal steps began to establish the Banking Inquiry under the Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Act 2013 which provides for six different types of inquiries. A Joint Committee of the Oireachtas was appointed to prepare a proposal of the type of inquiry required and the scope and terms of reference. Following some initial controversy as to its membership, the Joint Committee has met on a regular basis with a view to presenting its proposal to the Oireachtas in September 2014. It has also been reported that a nine-member panel of technical experts from both public and private sectors, has been appointed to assist the Banking Inquiry, on a pro bono basis. This panel has already been consulted on the contents of the Joint Committee’s proposal to the Oireachtas.
It is anticipated that, following receipt of the Joint Committee’s proposal in September 2014, the Oireachtas will vote to formally establish the Banking Inquiry, approve the proposal and appoint an appropriate sub-committee to conduct the Banking Inquiry. The Banking Inquiry, which is estimated to last 18 months, will be conducted on a phased basis. Preliminary phases include planning and set-up of the Banking Inquiry, gathering and analysing evidence, considering expert reports and holding of public oral hearings. It is expected that the sub-committee will prepare its report in advance of the dissolution of the Dáil in March 2016 and the next anticipated General Election.
Even at this early stage, the Joint Committee has had to address the issue of Cabinet confidentiality, and has confirmed that the contents of the “bank guarantee” Cabinet meeting held on 30 September 2008, including the minutes of the meeting, will not be made available to the Banking Inquiry. However, any documents prepared and provided to the Cabinet in advance of the meeting or any other meeting, will be made available. This approach has been criticised and will likely be the subject of further debate in the future.
The operation of the Banking Inquiry will be of particular interest in the coming months given that it will be the first inquiry under the Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Act 2013 and it concerns controversial and contested facts.