The dark cloud of the banking and financial crisis still lingers over every home in Ireland. It is the task of this Inquiry to shed light on how the collapse happened and to ensure its dark shadow never falls on our country again.
Today we begin our first public hearings into the banking crisis.
There have been a number of reports into the crisis and much has been written about it, but gaps remain in our knowledge of that time. We do not have a full picture of the events leading up to, during, and after the crisis. Many questions remain unanswered. Without the knowledge that answers to these questions will provide, we cannot protect ourselves against a repetition of the crisis. This means that those who can answer those questions must come before this committee to give a first-hand account of their stewardship.
This is the first time that the decisions that visited the financial crisis on the Irish people will be examined in public. We will hear from experts who will put Ireland’s crisis into a world context. We will hear from those who were at the helm when Ireland ran aground – as well as from those who were in the engine room.
The purpose of this Inquiry is to identify and to learn from previous mistakes and to ensure that, as far as is possible, we do not create the circumstances which would lead to a similar disaster in the future.
This committee has the power to compel written and oral evidence, so there will be witness testimony, oral evidence, transcripts, detailed records – all presented in public. It means that the Irish people will hear, at first hand, from those who were involved in one of the major events in the history of our country. The public will be able to see and hear from them as they are questioned and give their evidence to our committee.
It is up to us as a committee to put the pieces of the jigsaw in place so that the fullest picture emerges.
This enquiry is not only about looking at the past, it is also about examining the operation of current financial systems. We must ensure that this country puts in place a financial services infrastructure and an oversight regime that is robust and fit for purpose.
Today, we are at the beginning of a process. We recognise that there is a huge volume of work ahead of us, but we are ready for that task. The Committee members are just the visible side of this inquiry. Whatever we achieve from our work in this committee room, no matter how successful we are, we know that we depend on the support, hard work and dedication of those working behind the scenes – the public servants and the support team.
As a Committee, we are all working together to deliver to the Irish public an inquiry that is long overdue. An inquiry that will endeavour to ensure that the financial burden that has laid itself so heavily on the shoulders of the Irish people will not be placed there again.
I have said this before and I will say it again – this inquiry is an opportunity to leave our club jerseys at the committee room door and to do an important job of work on behalf of the Irish people. They deserve nothing less.
It is necessary that we all approach this inquiry with open minds. Nobody has a monopoly on wisdom and no one should pre-judge the outcome of this inquiry. This is an opportunity to demonstrate an example of Parliament at its best: thorough and impartial.
As chairman, it is my job to ensure that we take a collaborative and inclusive approach. The committee members, who have diverse individual backgrounds and political opinions, have proven through their efforts to date that we can work in a collegiate spirit in the interests of the Irish people.
As I have said, we are at the start of a process. We have a big challenge ahead of us – Let us be clear about that. We know the clock is ticking. We know the timescale is tight. Nevertheless, we have accepted the challenge and we will meet it.
But it would be wrong to see it just in terms of a challenge. It is a privilege to serve on this committee. It is also an opportunity – an opportunity to shine a light on a dark and painful time in our recent past, an opportunity to piece together the events of that time, an opportunity to learn from the mistakes that were made and an opportunity to ensure that those mistakes are never repeated.