Ten barristers earn €3.15m from State for medical error cases
Ten barristers shared a massive €3.15m "gravy train" between them last year in fees relating to medical negligence cases, with one receiving more than three-quarters of a million euro.
The revelation comes as it has emerged that the taxpayer was forced to foot a €62.5m bill in 2013 in settling such negligence cases.
The shocking spend has led to calls from the opposition for the Government to change the legislation to limit the fees being paid to barristers working for it.
New State Claims Agency (SCA) documents obtained by the Irish Independent show five senior counsel each got payments far in excess of the salary paid to Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his senior ministers.
The fees are paid to barristers who represent the State in cases where medical negligence is alleged.
Under current legislation, barristers, who are sole traders, are paid a daily rate and the law prevents the Government from hiring them directly on a salary.
The spend has been highly criticised by Public Accounts Committee (PAC) member Sean Fleming, who had been seeking their disclosure for several months.
According to the figures, the highest earner was Murray McGrath, who received €757,728.
Mr McGrath has been a senior counsel since 1974 and is an expert in tort and personal injury law.
Their fees are inclusive of VAT at 23pc, but even when that is taken into account, Mr McGrath's fees last year came to €583,451.
The next highest-paid senior counsel were Emily Egan, who received €694,841 in 2013; Patrick Hanratty, who received €468,413; Declan Buckley, who got €363,911; and Ronan Dolan, who received €227,333.
The five highest-earning junior counsel in 2013 were: Paul McGinn, who got €179,357; Brian Foley, who earned €143,764; Conor Halpin, who received €125,080; Pearse Sreenan, who got €97,621 and Denise Brett, who received €91,982.
Defending the spend, SCA Director Ciaran Brennan said: "It should be noted that sums of money paid to counsel are inclusive of VAT and reflect work carried out over a three- to five-year period in a number of cases".
Speaking to the Irish Independent yesterday, Mr Fleming said the figures were "outrageous and a disgrace".
"This gravy train must be derailed immediately. I want a change in legislation to allow the State to hire barristers on salary directly, so the taxpayer isn't having to stomach such extravagant fees," he said.
In total in 2013, 389 clinical indemnity cases were settled out of court and finalised at a cost to the taxpayer of €60.1m, €24.5m of which related to legal and expert fees.
A further six cases that went to trial and resulted in a defeat for the State cost the taxpayer €2.5m. A further €15m was paid out in settlement in cases by way of mediation. In 2013, 19 cases were settled by mediation resulting in an average settlement of €776,000.
THE TOP 5 SENIOR COUNSELS
Murray McGrath – €757,728
Emily Egan – €694,841
Patrick Hanratty – €468,413
Declan Buckley – €363,911
Ronan Dolan – €227,333
TOP 5 JUNIOR COUNSELS
Paul McGinn – €179,357
Brian Foley – €143,764
Conor Halpin – €125,080
Pearse Sreenan – €97,621
Denise Brett – €91,982