Two problems with the Banking Inquiry report

I’ve been thankfully out of the country for the launch of the Bank Inquiry report, and am only now catching up with the report itself, and the analysis from the media. It’s interesting to watch it from afar – it adds a sense of perspective to the entire exercise.

My conclusion is what it was back when the inquiry began – it is a futile and worthless exercise. But rather than get bogged down in an analysis of this point, let’s focus on just two main conclusions the inquiry reached:

1) The guarantee didn’t just happen the night of the guarantee, it was considered as an option in early 2008.

2) The ECB bounced Ireland into a bailout.

Our analysis would be this: tell us something we didn’t already know.

Back in July 2010 the Oireachtas had its last sitting day on July 8. A week later on July 15 the Public Accounts Committee published a series of documents related to the guarantee. It’s a time when people are winding down for the holidays, including journalists. We noticed the documents, read them, and re-published them the next day on July 16, 2010. We then published an OCRd, consolidated and annotated version on January 19, 2011.

The documents contained a series of important presentations and minutes, including those of the Domestic Standing Group (DSG), setup in 2007 to deal with the global financial crisis. They also included options that were discussed in relation to guaranteeing the banks. These documents were hugely significant and I talked about it again and again, tweeted about it for the best part of a year, and also mentioned it several times the odd time I was on Tonight with Vincent Browne.

So the facts of the guarantee not being an overnight decision was known more than five years ago. There’s nothing new to see here. Yet somehow the inquiry presents it as new. Indeed, by page 15 of the report, they boast:

Findings of the Joint Committee

1. The option of guaranteeing the banks did not arise for the first time on the night of the guarantee meeting on 29 September 2008. The option of introducing a guarantee was first formally noted in January 2008, again in February 2008 and again in June 2008.

No shit. The documents were posted on the PAC website in July 2010. By the time the Dail got back in September, we were on our way to a bailout. But not alone that, the inquiry chair Ciaran Lynch is at pains in his opening statement to point out how the inquiry discovered this:

The “night of the guarantee” has become a thing of myth. The idea of a guarantee was not conceived on a single Monday night in September 2008; Department of Finance documents show that it was considered as part of a range of options as early as January 2008. Decision-makers, however, were forced to decide on a course of action in the absence of accurate information about the underlying health of financial institutions; no independent in-depth ‘deep dive’ investigation of the banks had been commissioned by the authorities before September 2008

But again tell us something we don’t already know. In fact we annotated the entire document five years ago this month, including this bit from early 2008:

And this bit:

I could go on. Even more oddly the press this week have pointed to the guarantee story as an example of how the inquiry succeeded in its work and even presented some of the findings as news. But we’ve known this for more than five years.

Then there’s the ECB threat.

Regular readers of this blog will recall that we were the ones who put simultaneous FOI requests into the the Department of Finance and to the ECB seeking the Trichet letters. We then went through lengthy appeals processes through both regimes – the DoF one ultimately failed following a ruling by then Information Commissioner Emily O’Reilly, as did the same appeal to the European Ombudsman (who shortly thereafter was also Emily O’Reilly).

It was the pressure exerted by our appeals, and then by Ms O’Reilly pressuring the ECB President Mario Draghi – that ultimately led to the Trichet letters being released to the public in November 2014 (though the Department of Finance chose to leak the letters the day before to the Irish Times). Had the Department not already known that the ECB were going to release the letters, it’s very unlikely they would have been leaked at all. So we knew that Trichet threatened us – how did the Banking Inquiry at all help us reach this conclusion?

So what did we learn from the Banking Inquiry?

Not much.