- Called to Account:RTÉ and the Inquiry into the Irish Banking Crisis
Shortly after 7 a.m. on 18 November 2010 the governor of the Central Bank of Ireland, Patrick Honohan, rang the Irish national broadcaster RTÉ from Frankfurt. He wanted to appear on Morning Ireland, the broadcaster’s radio-news program with the largest audience, to confirm that Ireland had entered into negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Union institutions on a bailout for the Irish economy. His intervention and his on-air revelations were riveting and sensational, not just because he was confirming that Ireland had lost its economic sovereignty for the first time since independence, but also because the possibility of an IMF bailout had been vehemently and repeatedly denied by government ministers in interviews with RTÉ over previous days. An agreement was soon reached with what became known as “the troika” of institutions—the European Central Bank, the European Commission, and the IMF. In return for financial support the Irish government committed the nation to a strict regime of structural reform and austerity budgets. The financial crisis that led to the bailout was, as Donovan and Murphy have outlined it, the culmination of a property, banking, and fiscal crisis influenced significantly by outside events but also to a large extent home-grown.1
In the immediate aftermath of the crisis the government commissioned a number of external reports into the causes of the collapse and the implications for policy and structures. There followed in rapid succession reports by Regling and Watson (2010), Honohan [End Page 189] (2010), Wright (2010), and Nyberg (2010).2 Finally, in May 2014 the two houses of the Oireachtas (the Dáil and the Seanad) established a joint committee “to inquire into the reasons Ireland experienced a systemic banking crisis, including the political, economic, social, cultural, financial, and behavioral factors and policies which impacted on or contributed to the crisis and the preventative reforms implemented in the wake of the crisis.”3 This committee was empowered with its terms of reference in November 2014 and began public hearings under its chairman Ciarán Lynch on 17 December 2014.
The work of the inquiry was divided into two main phases: a context phase and a nexus phase. The aim of the context phase was to “frame the broad context for the inquiry and set out the background to the banking crisis and to prepare the ground for [the] nexus phase.” This first phase consisted of “technical briefings for the committee in areas such as bank lending and liquidity management, mortgage exposures, and the nature, cost, and scope of the guarantee decision.”4 The phase included “the previous reports into the crisis; the international EU and domestic policy context; the relationship between state authorities, political parties, elected officials, supervisory authorities, [and] the banking and property sectors; early warnings; divergent and contrarian views; and finally, the role of the media.” The nexus phase would follow with interviews scheduled with bankers, officials, and politicians with direct experience and responsibility during the crisis.
The purpose of the media section was outlined by the chairman as follows: [End Page 190]
Tomorrow we start context-phase hearings on the role of the media during the property boom in the lead-in to the banking crisis and any changes in approach after the crisis. In particular, we will consider the role in mainstream media for skepticism about the sustainability of the housing boom or the strength of the broader economy; potential conflicts of interest among media organizations; the promotion of property ownership over other forms of tenure; and the prevailing view that there would be a soft landing.5
The hearings, which took place on 25 and 26 March 2015, began with evidence from two academics, Dr. Julian Mercille and Dr. Harry Browne, followed by representatives from the Irish Examiner newspaper, the Independent News and Media Company, the Irish Times newspaper, and RTÉ. Each of the media was represented by both an editor and another member of the organization who could speak to the commercial issues. The editors were Tim Vaughan from the Irish Examiner, Gerry O’Regan from Independent News...