Business Irish

Friday 23 August 2019

Government rules out separate probe into Siteserv sale

Denis O'Brien
Denis O'Brien

Kevin Doyle and Daniel McConnell

The Government has ruled out separating the probe into the sale of Siteserv from the stalled Commission of Investigation into IBRC, as demanded by the Opposition.

As fresh details emerged about what led Mr Justice Brian Cregan to write to Taoiseach Enda Kenny warning he was "not in a position" to proceed with elements of his work, Opposition TDs pushed for the element regarding the sale of Siteserv to businessman Denis O'Brien to be prioritised.

But a Government source said it would be impossible to take Siteserv as a standalone case due to overlapping or interrelated transactions.

Documents published by Judge Cregan show that it was the Department of Finance which first raised concerns about the confidentiality and privileged nature of documents being sought in relation to the former Anglo Irish Bank.

It has been established that the department, which is itself subject to the probe, obtained outside legal advice from William Fry Solicitors as to how to handle the "largely third party" documents of IBRC borrowers.

The department asserted confidentiality over thousands of pages as well as citing privilege, which means it had concerns over the passing of these documents to third parties.

A spokesman for Finance Minister Michael Noonan last night rejected any suggestion the department had failed to cooperate with Judge Cregan.

"We have cooperated in every way. Where legal advice was needed it was sought and the judge accepted our position around confidentiality," he said.

On August 10, the commission wrote to Mr Noonan's department seeking voluntary disclosure of documents it felt relevant to the probe, which is studying 37 transactions where IBRC sold assets with a write-down of €10m or more.

Four days later, officials from the department wrote back raising "a number of issues".

The department was concerned that if it handed over information voluntarily it "may be exposed to the risk of litigation".

Eventually, documents were given but officials reiterated the warning about confidentiality and legal privilege.

Judge Cregan felt he was being tasked with deciding whether these matters could be over-ruled on the grounds of public interest.

Ultimately, he noted that if the commission was to engage in this balancing act it would be subject of "an immediate challenge in the courts" which would most likely be successful.

The process has now been stalled further after Judge Cregan asked the Government not to rush into any emergency legislation or other solution to the impasse before he submits his interim report, possibly next week.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny was accused of "stonewalling" the Opposition on the row.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said that when it comes to the elites in society, repeated roadblocks are found to interfere with due process.

"You were dragged kicking and screaming to this point and yet you are empty handed here today," Mr Martin said in the Dáil.

Irish Independent

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