Are public inquiries incapable of coming to a decision?

This is a short judgement that could have big consequences. According to Anne O’Loughlin in the Irish Times, Ms Justice Susan Denham has ruled that “to grant an order of prohibition from holding the public hearing as the court had found there was a lack of jurisdiction on the tribunal’s part. She granted a declaration that the tribunal had failed to comply with a paragraph of the amended terms of reference which referred to additional matters to go to public hearing and which set a deadline”. The real meat in this issue is that the tribunal was charged by the Oireachtas to make a decision about what it was, and what it wasn’t going to investigate in future. Denham judges that they fudged the issue:

“I am satisfied the tribunal did not make a decision – it deferred its decision on April 28th, 2005. The document of April 28th clearly indicates a postponement of the decision. This is not a record of a decision to proceed to public hearings. It is a document plainly indicating a contrary decision, a postponement of the decision.”

In turn it raises more searching question: what on earth are these tribunals for?

It begins to look like a grand and very public psychiatrist’s couch in which individual reputations can be impugned, but individuals can neither be convicted nor declared innocent. The result is the worst of both worlds. As one person I spoke to this morning about it, if these matters had been subject to a US style Grand Jury, it would have had the power of subpoena and those found guilty would already have been released from jail.

This matchstick drawn from the base of the inquiry’s raison de etre may just see them topple and fall into disuse. But it should not be the end of the matter. If the Republic is keen to set and keep high public standards, then it need some functional way of dealing clearly, fairly and above all conclusively with anyone accused of misconduct.

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  • Frank Sinistra

    Justice Sue Denham stopping public inquiries. This is a joke, right?

  • Pete Baker

    “This is a joke, right?”

    Not at all.

  • The Dubliner

    “The concept behind the establishment of a tribunal is that there be an inquiry into definite matters as a matter of urgent public importance,” she said. “The fact that the tribunal is still inquiring 10 years later is the antithesis of an urgent public inquiry.” – Susan Denham

    That’s the concept behind British tribunals (used very sparingly and, with the exception of the Saville Inquiry, concluded within months). The concept behind Irish tribunals is to get a hostile Irish media off the backs of the politicians in the immediate term, with no regard to the amount of club-yielding hacks that scramble up onto their backs in the long term as a result of all the cranks, crackpots, and begrudgers who scurry forth to the dignifying forum of a tribunal with outlandish tales of wrongdoing by the objects of their vexation, delighting the establishment-haters in the Irish media and those whose agenda is to depict Irish business and politics to be a corrupt arena in the squinting eyes of the world. The sub-concept seems to be scatter vast quantities of taxpayers’ money in the direction of the wigged ones.

    The Flood/Mahon tribunal, burning public money since 1997, being a definitive example of an allegation that should have been properly investigated by the Garda Síochána, and not the selected method (indeed, they could have saved a few hundred million by simply asking an architect who the bent boyos were).

  • The Dubliner

    Above quote is an Irish Times report of what Susan Denham said, and not a quote by her (as wrongly attributed above).