Saturday 1 October 2016

Legal eagles' protection comes with a high cost

Published 12/04/2016 | 02:30

In country-specific recommendations for Ireland last year, the Commission noted legal costs here remained high and signalled they could affect the State’s competitiveness. Stock Image
In country-specific recommendations for Ireland last year, the Commission noted legal costs here remained high and signalled they could affect the State’s competitiveness. Stock Image

Not even the Troika were able to significantly cut the costs of legal services in this country. During the bailout era, the cost of hiring lawyers and reform of the legal profession was a constant bugbear of the European Commission. During the reviews of the bailout, a familiar item on the list of policy proposals would be "the opening up of competition in sheltered sectors like legal services".

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Privately, officials would express extreme exasperation around the failure to address the cost to the consumer and the wider economy of this most sheltered of the so-called sheltered sectors.

The list of the sheltered sectors was wider than just the legal profession, also including the pharmacy and medical professions. The watering down of the provisions of Alan Shatter's Legal Services Bill showed the influence the legal profession brought to bear on the political classes.

After the bailout, the European Commission ultimately conceded defeat as Brussels dropped moves to make the Government slash the cost of legal proceedings and make the legal sector more efficient.

In country-specific recommendations for Ireland last year, the Commission noted legal costs here remained high and signalled they could affect the State's competitiveness. The previous call to reduce them is not included among its recommendations and states that officials will continue to "monitor progress in this area".

Now the National Competitiveness Council has linked the high legal services costs to stinging insurance premiums. The Government's competitiveness adviser says prices for legal services have failed to decrease significantly following the collapse of the Celtic Tiger and had now risen to their highest level in six years.

The effect of the failure of the Government to tackle this sheltered sector is now being seen in insurance premiums. The economic crisis affected every sector of Irish society, yet one profession managed to significantly protect itself.

It's a great little nation.

Wasting time while people are suffering

Any remaining delusions that the State has been free-wheeling along nicely for more than six weeks without a government should have been dispelled with the dismal figures on hospital  waiting lists released yesterday.

The 72,881 people awaiting surgery and the 490,000 in need of an appointment to see a specialist ought to act as a moral spur for even the most recalcitrant TD. The health crisis is escalating and needs radical new thinking to address the myriad crises on infrastructural, managerial, and staff shortage fronts.

But there are gathering storms on the industrial landscape too, with the real prospect of a meltdown in public transport. Teachers and gardaí have also expressed massive dissatisfaction across a range of issues which have been allowed to fester. Last night's warning from Luas operator Transdev, while not exactly unexpected, is alarming nonetheless. With another wave of strikes planned, staff have been told they will be on protective notice should they go ahead. Siptu and management are descending into an ever-deepening battle of wills from which neither will emerge unscathed.

Finally, after weeks of phoney wars and petulant playing to the galleries, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael negotiating teams look set to hold formal talks. The focus has switched to a minority government. But if one is lying on a hospital trolley or immobilised at home waiting for a hip transplant, this type of government is of little consequence. Yet well-paid professional politicians who stood so they could make a difference have no such excuse. People are suffering as time is wasted. It behoves all in these talks to be part of the solution.

Irish Independent

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