Friday 26 May 2017

Probe of Siteserv and other IBRC deals set to cost €3m next year

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Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The commission of investigation into asset sales by IBRC is expected to cost up to €3m next year, Government officials have confirmed.

But the total expected cost of the inquiry remains unclear and could end up being a multiple of that figure if it progresses at its current rate.

Information on the expected bill for 2016 was provided by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) to the Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

But the department would not make any predictions on the overall cost of the probe, which is looking at 38 asset sales by IBRC where a write-off of over €100m was involved.

The commission was launched by the Government following controversy over the sale of contracting firm Siteserv to Denis O'Brien's Millington, which involved a write-down of €119m and a payment to shareholders of €5m.

It was set up last July and initially given until the end of the year to carry out its work. Costs so far have been around €900,000.

However, Mr Justice Cregan has asked for more time and resources, including an additional judge, as well as increased powers, fearing it could take between seven and eight years if he is not given additional supports. The judge has suggested it could take 18 months or more to look into just 12 of the 38 transactions.

Opposition TDs have proposed that the Siteserv transaction be one of those prioritised by the commission.

The DPER briefing said it was initially assumed the commission's work could be completed by the end of this year.

But it said it was "difficult to accurately estimate the cost of a commission at the outset, as needs tend to change as the commission does its work".

It also said it was possible litigation and third party costs could arise.

Deadlines

Officials told the PAC that although commissions of investigation can be given deadlines, the nature of their work meant they often uncover additional information which needs to be looked at.

"This leads to unforeseen increases in administration costs," it said.

An interim report published last week found the six largest write-offs led to a combined loss of almost €1bn to the taxpayer.

After receiving the briefing, the PAC last night wrote to the department asking it to look at putting in place a mechanism for the consideration of time limits and spending caps for commissions of investigation.

Fine Gael TD John Deasy, the PAC member who proposed the move, said certainty needed to be provided on timescales and the expense of such inquiries.

He added that prioritising the Siteserv element of the probe was a sensible suggestion.

The DPER document also revealed the total costs of the Fennelly Commission, assuming it finishes by the end of next year, will be around €3.8m.

The commission has already examined the retirement of former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and is continuing to investigate the taping of phone calls in garda stations.

It recently sought an extension to the end of 2016 to complete its work.

DPER said the costs in 2014 had been €578,000 and it was expected to cost €1.2m this year.

Additional funding of €2m is being provided for 2016.

Irish Independent

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