I am aware that earlier when I started to write for the Advertiser that we spoke about the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry but it has now concluded its work. I thought it would be helpful to review how it conducted itself and how it ended.
The inquiry held 49 days of hearings over 10 months. There were 128 witnesses who came before it.
Firstly, the underlying and hidden purpose of the setting up of the committee was to undermine the previous Fianna Fáil/Green Government and to do it at an appropriate time before the 2016 General Election. As the inquiry developed over all of those days of hearings, it became clear that the financial crisis that gripped Ireland was a part of an international crisis that gripped the world.
Lack of decent financial regulation plus the wrong information which banks gave the Government, the Central Bank, and the public at large was also a huge contributory factor. The inquiry had a very competent chairman in Ciarán Lynch, a Labour TD from Cork. He and the members of the inquiry were massively curtailed in what questions they could ask and what conclusions they could reach due to the terms laid down in the holding of the inquiry.
Nevertheless, some sterling performers showed up including Senator Marc MacSharry from Sligo (FF ), Eoghan Murphy (FG ) and Senator Sean Barrett (Ind ). Each time they looked like landing a blow, the chairman had to move in quickly and tell them that that area of questioning had to stop. He had no other alternative due to the legal constraints.
There were some memorable hearings – the first one which comes to mind and which we have already spoken of in this column is that of Kevin Cardiff, previously Secretary General of the Department of Finance. He gave a sterling and searingly honest commentary on what actually happened. Brian Cowen refused to play the villain and came across well in his evidence.
During the summer I managed to catch a lot of it. It was a great service given on RTÉ to enable anyone to look in on the proceedings as they unfolded. Thursday, September 10, was the final day of hearings. In the morning, for four hours, we had Ajai Chopra, the head of the IMF bailout mission to Ireland.
In the afternoon we had Michael Noonan, the present Minister for Finance. Both of those people gave gripping performances. Ajai Chopra did not spare the European Central Bank and its former president, Jean Claude Trichet. He told of how the threats and bullying to the late Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan, in November 2010, occurred.
Similarly, he laid bare the threat to Michael Noonan in March 2011 when the said Jean Claude Trichet repeated his threat to him that he would bomb Dublin if the bondholders were burned. I have a small personal story about Ajai Chopra. One day in early 2011 when I was still a backbencher in the Dáil, I got into the lift to find the only other person there was Ajai Chopra.
As the lift rose up I shook his hand, told him my name, and that I was a member of parliament and the aunt of Brian Lenihan. He gripped my hand, looked me in the eye and said, ‘Mr Lenihan is a good man.’ I left his company with a warm feeling.
Before we leave the matter of the inquiry, we should applaud the work of the Deputies and Senators who in a very assiduous fashion carried out their duties on behalf of the Dáil and of the country. The report will now issue in January 2016. Hopefully, there will be lessons to be learned from it about the vital role of financial regulation in Ireland and proper recommendations for same.It will also hopefully open up the closed nature of our administrative and regulatory systems and I am sure give many other useful pointers for the future.
I hope readers will forgive me if I turn towards education for the last part of my column this week. In the last few days, two very good things have happened in education.
The first one is the roll-out of the handing over of the Irish Flag and the Irish Proclamation of 1916 to a primary school in County Mayo. This is the first of such ceremonies in all 3,300 primary schools in Ireland. This is a marvellous initiative. I know it will imbue proper feelings of patriotism in the young pupils.
The second move I want to comment on is the recent OECD report which proclaimed that too much IT is not good for students. I have always felt that the ever increasing reliance on IT in the classrooms could not be good for the teacher/student. The OECD has issued an authoritative report on this matter.
I hope it will be heeded because in some areas there was a headline rush to embrace IT in every school in Ireland, often I felt to the detriment of a proper student/teacher relationship and the awakening of knowledge and creativity in the young student’s mind. Of course IT is good in moderation, but not in excess.
Slán go Fóill,