Taxpayer faces €400m legal bill for tribunals after ruling
A RULING in the Supreme Court yesterday could cost Irish taxpayers hundreds of millions in legal costs arising from tribunals.
Former minister Ray Burke, the Bailey brothers and other developers against whom the planning tribunal made adverse findings could have their legal bills paid by taxpayers.
And former minister Michael Lowry, Denis O'Brien and other witnesses at the Moriarty Tribunal can now expect to have their legal costs paid by the State.
Legal sources estimated that the Supreme Court ruling could add hundreds of millions to the Exchequer's legal bill for the tribunals of inquiry.
There were Government fears last night that the ruling would fulfil a warning given in 2007 by the then-Justice Minister Michael McDowell that the legal bills for tribunals could cost €1bn.
Five judges in the Supreme Court yesterday ordered the planning tribunal to pay the High Court and Supreme Court legal costs of Joseph Murphy Junior, Frank Reynolds and JMSE Ltd.
Last week, the court ruled findings by former tribunal chairman Mr Justice Flood that the two directors of JMSE had "obstructed and hindered" its inquiries were outside the tribunal's terms of reference.
The Supreme Court also found that the Flood Tribunal's findings were unlawful, invalid and could not form a basis for refusing them their costs of participating in the tribunal.
However, the court also said that when a tribunal was addressing costs, it was entitled to take a party's lack of co-operation into account.
Last week's judgment damaged the reputation of former High Court judge Feargus Flood, who had deleted allegations made by a witness, James Gogarty, from statements circulated to JMSE and its directors.
The Supreme Court found that the deletions made by the chairman, Mr Justice Flood, had prevented JMSE Ltd's legal team from challenging the credibility of Mr Gogarty.
One estimate for the extra third-party costs arising from the Supreme Court ruling puts it at €250m-€400m -- and that's just for the planning tribunal.
Back in 2004, chairman of the planning tribunal Judge Alan Mahon rejected a claim from lawyers for former minister Ray Burke who put his fees at "a sum in excess of €10m".
It is not clear if Mr Burke intends to seek his legal costs but lawyers believe last week's Supreme Court ruling would make it much easier for the former minister.
The Bailey brothers intend to challenge the planning tribunal's refusal to approve their €5m legal costs.