There was uproar in the Dublin parliament this week as the coalition government unilaterally altered the make up of a committee of inquiry into the banking crisis -- because it was not assured of a built-in majority.
The government quickly forced through changes in the parliament’s upper house, the Seanad, reestablishing its majority in the Joint Committee of Inquiry into the Banking Crisis, in the face of angry protests and denunciations.
Last week, three government senators were absent from the meeting of the selection committee for the banking inquiry, including its nominee, Senator O’Keeffe.
She said she had been attending to a family matter at the time. As a result, two non-government members of the Upper House were instead chosen to sit on the all-party inquiry, putting the government into a minority.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the parliament this week that the government “needed” an majority on the committee in order to set its terms of reference. He said he had ordered the inclusion of two additional government supporters by way of a Seanad motion.
The proposal, which did not allow any debate, met with prolonged and vociferous protest from the Opposition benches. There were assertions that the move was anti-democratic and it was also compared to the Stalinist era in the Soviet Union, as well as to the Enabling Act of Adolf Hitler.
In angry exchanges, Fianna Fail Senators accused the government of riding roughshod over democracy and of using the inquiry to simply attack Fianna Fail, and to avoid any criticism of the current government parties, Fine Gael and Labour.
Independent TD Stephen Donnelly has said he was debating whether he should withdraw from the banking inquiry. He said the Taoiseach had made it “crystal clear” that the government members of the committee would be setting the terms of reference in a restrictive manner.
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams TD has described the debacle as “shambolic and symptomatic” of the dysfunctional nature of the Fine Gael and Labour government.
He said: “What happened to government claims only three years ago of a ‘democratic revolution’ and promises of greater accountability, transparency and honesty? This is stroke politics and a throwback to the worst kind of politics practised by Fianna Fail.
“This is not about getting to the truth. This is about Fine Gael and Fianna Fail stacking the inquiry to cover-up for the disastrous policies that both have pursued.”
He said the sudden addition of extra government supporters was “a scandalous piece of political shenanigans” and “a deliberate and cynical gerrymandering of the political system in order that the government may control the outcome of the inquiry.
“This undermines the integrity of the banking inquiry committee and especially of the government.”
MEDIA MOGUL WINS AGAIN
In a related development it has emerged that a prominent Fine Gael supporter, billionaire businessman Denis O’Brien, has benefited from total bank write-offs of more than 300 million euro.
The deals saw the businessman invest [euro]230 million to acquire the Siteserv Group, the Topaz Group and the Beacon Private Hospital.
Mr O’Brien, who has a 29.9 per cent stake, is the biggest shareholder in the Independent News & Media. In April last year the group did a deal with its eight banks, which include AIB and Bank of Ireland, where the banks wrote off 138 million euro of an overall debt of 422 million euro, in exchange for a shareholding in the group worth approximately 10 million euro.