Tuesday 27 January 2015

Revealed: €5m cost of 'toothless' banking inquiry

Exclusive: €3.6m set aside for lawyers and staff; €80,000 will be spent on new tables and chairs

DANIEL McCONNELL 
AND JOHN DRENNAN

Published 20/07/2014 | 02:30

Thinkstock Images

The taxpayer is now set to pay up to €5m for the Oireachtas banking inquiry, new figures obtained by the Sunday Independent reveal.

The 11 members of the committee of inquiry set up to investigate the cause of the banking collapse have been presented with a detailed breakdown of costs, which reveal that €3.6m is now being set aside for legal advice, staff costs, website costs and broadcasting costs.

A lavish spend on furniture is also included in the costs - with €80,000 alone for chairs and desks for committee members and staff. This is enough to buy no fewer than 1,777 Torkel swivel office chairs in IKEA at €45 a piece.

The extraordinarily generous provision for furniture is part of €700,000 that has been set aside for capital building works. Earlier estimates had put inquiry costs at €3m, but the figures revealed today show the final bill will be significantly higher.

Independent Senator Sean Barrett this weekend called on the Dail spending watchdog to investigate the "excessive" amounts, particularly the amount allocated for chairs and desks.

He told the Sunday Independent: "The Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) should look at this before, not after, the money is spent. There is a serious question over value for money here."

Support staff for the inquiry, including 28 core secretariat staff working for 18 months, will cost €1.9m. Four legal advisers working for the committee over 14 months are estimated to cost €200,000.

However, legal costs are likely to be much higher. The documents state, in bold red ink, that this is an "estimate only". It adds: "Costs cannot be finalised until after tender process is completed. No budget has been provided for costs of legal proceedings arising from the inquiry."

Another €300,000 has been allocated for four analysts to help the work of the committee. But - again - these are only estimates because the tenders for these roles are not yet completed.

Elsewhere, the website for the inquiry will cost €20,000, a further €20,000 is being allocated to improve access to inquiry debates on the site, while a further €95,000 is being allowed for "broadcasting and sound support". The breakdown of the costs follows widespread criticism of the terms of reference of the committee of inquiry, which is headed by Labour TD Ciaran Lynch.

The guidelines published by the Dail Committee on Procedures and Privilege last month raise the possibility that the committee will have difficulty investigating what many consider lies at the heart of the crisis, the government decision at the end of September 2008 to give a blanket guarantee to the five principal financial institutions. The publication of the guidelines followed the dramatic resignation of Independent TD Stephen Donnelly, who quit the committee in protest at what he saw as the Government's attempts to control the inquiry, which was recently described as "toothless" by Independent TD Clare Daly.

Concern is also growing among committee members that government mandarins will try and nobble its work.

This followed the appointment of six senior public sector officials from the Department of Finance, the Department of the Taoiseach, the Central Bank and the ESRI, who have been nominated to advise the banking inquiry.

It is believed the officials will advise on the best framework the committee should adopt in the autumn.

But one committee member told the Sunday Independent: "The idea that public sector mandarins will be allowed to steer a report into the actions of their own colleagues is not sustainable. It's the equivalent of putting poachers in charge of 
poachers."

Sunday Independent

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