Friday, May 16, 2014

Oireachtas Éireann Sends in the Clowns

First published in the Western People on Monday.

Eddie Fossett and Tom Duffy may sleep on peacefully in eternity. The founders of the circuses that still bear their names must have been worried, even so far away from earthly cares, about the future of their profession.

What point in hiring lion tamers or trying to source those big shoes for the clowns when the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry was about to show the world the greatest circus ever seen?

Instead, the shock resignation of former Minister for Justice Alan Shatter saw the banking inquiry booted into touch as the Government hurried to steady the ship. This isn’t the first time this has happened – political analyst Noel Whelan noted on Twitter that last week was the fourth time the Banking Inquiry has been announced in the lifetime of this Government, and it hasn’t happened yet.

The nation will have a lucky escape if it doesn’t happen at all. Certainly we would like to know what happened with the Irish banks, but that doesn’t mean an Oireachtas Committee is the best means of finding it out.  If anything, an Oireachtas Committee is the last place we should look for anything, bringing up the rear after prayers to St Anthony.

The Oireachtas Committee system is the most over-hyped thing in Irish politics since Seanad Éireann. Oireachtas Committees don’t find things out. They are stages for shapers and windbags, roaring at one another in the hopes of making it to the Six-One News. They only thing they reveal is gas. Any amount of it.

And the Banking Inquiry Committee will be the most wretched of the lot. Fine Gael have been looking forward to something like since they got into power, but it’s not because they think it’ll reveal the truth. It’s because it’s a chance to give Fianna Fáil a thorough kicking, and they can think of nothing more delicious than that.

Consider an interview with Government Chief Whip Paul Kehoe on Morning Ireland on Mayday last. Presenter Gavin Jennings put it to Kehoe that the inquiry was just going to be a show-trial, a chance for some early-season electioneering. Perish the thought, replied Deputy Kehoe.

“When I was briefing the opposition whips yesterday evening of this banking inquiry I asked them to take into account the whole area of bias, and to consider carefully the people who they will be appointing to the committee,” remarked the Chief Whip, blissfully oblivious to the notion that it’d hardly be opposition who would turn up with the tar and feathers.

Deputy Kehoe went on to say “when the members are appointed to the committee by their political parties, their names will be submitted to CPP [Committee on Procedures and Privileges], who will look at the members of the committee to make sure there is no bias involved in the membership.”

Deputy Kehoe did not remark that he himself sits on the Committee on Procedures and Privileges, so he’ll be doubly-sure that there won’t be any bias on the banking committee.

And then, Deputy Kehoe delivered his coup de grace, pointing out how we could be triply sure that the Banking Committee won’t be biased. “I can assure in my own party - and I’m not going to go into individual names - that were very much aware that this committee was going to be set up and they wanted to be members of this committee,” said Deputy Kehoe. “They were very careful in their utterances, and any comments that they have made, over the past numbers of years.”

Deputy Kehoe is a member of Fine Gael party, of course. Sadly, Gavin Jennings did not follow up with a question along these lines: “Hold on a second, Deputy Kehoe – are you telling us that members of Fine Gael have deliberately kept quiet about the banking crisis in the hopes of not being seen to be biased when appointed to the committee? But doesn’t that just make them fifth columnists, there to score every political point going like a cross-code inside line of Gooch Cooper and Henry Shefflin?”

Sadly, that question wasn’t asked and Paul Kehoe finished his interview on Morning Ireland by saying the public wants know who’s to blame. And so they do, very badly. But if the public have learned anything from the past six years, they should have learned this: the blame isn’t some one’s. It’s some thing’s.

That thing being our political and regulatory system, of course. The current government was elected on a ticket that promised change, and they have not delivered on that promise. Not even kind of. Only the faces have changed; the suits remain exactly the same.

Consider the recent trial concerning the infamous Maple 10 accounts at Anglo-Irish Bank. Judge Martin Nolan didn’t spare the timber when it came to the financial regulator’s role in the crisis. People have asked why isn’t he accountable? Well, because Irish law is such that people in those sort of positions aren’t held accountable.

This is how the state is set up. Why would we enshrine laws that could only put one of our own behind bars? Far better to enshrine laws that lock up weirdoes, misfits, gobdaws, quarehawks, hop-off-me-thumbs and Shinners. Lots and lots of Shinners.

In the light of all we’ve learned since the crash, what laws have been passed to make the financial regulator from here on in accountable? Anybody know? Who’s examining these fellas’ homework now that the Troika have move on?

Does anyone know what would happen if, by some accident, the financial regulator were held to account? Would every public servant be held to account? Has anybody asked David Begg what he would make of these onions? Or did nobody bother, because we already know very well what David Begg and the many unions he represents would make of these onions?

That’s why the banking inquiry can only be a circus. When the Troika left, it was like the strings were cut on the puppets and the Government collapsed into a heap. Alan Shatter is gone, the European and local elections will be a slaughter for the junior coalition partner and there’s another tough budget to come. What is the Government doing while the ship sinks beneath the waves? Fighting over towels on deck-chairs, of course.