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€50m spent on bonanza for lawyers

GOVERNMENT departments have spent almost €50m of taxpayers' money on outside legal fees to a select group of lawyers, new figures obtained by this newspaper reveal.

Despite the existence of the Attorney-General's office, the state solicitors and the DPP, government departments still managed to pay out a staggering €48,543,004 to legal firms between 2007 and 2010.

Across the lists received from departments, there is a high repetition of the use of a small number of leading legal firms who benefit handsomely from state work.

Many of the jobs were also awarded without proper tendering, which is a breach of public sector protocols.

In many cases the jobs were awarded outside the terms of the Government's own proper tendering processes, with some of the bigger claims done so on grounds of "urgency".

A number of departments, including education and enterprise, failed to produce any figures.

Fine Gael's Brian Hayes supplied the Sunday Independent with the information.

Names such as Arthur Cox, McCann FitzGerald Solicitors, Mason Hayes & Curran and Matheson Ormsby Prentice feature in most government lists provided, with each of them earning multi-million-euro fees.

Arthur Cox earned €11.4m from the Department of Finance between 2008 and 2010. This largely related to services provided around the State's bank guarantee.

It was also paid more than €683,000 from Eamon Ryan's Department of Communications, €300,000 from the Department of Agriculture, and €200,000 for work relating to the Pensions Board.

McCann FitzGerald solicitors received €1,312,257 from the OPW for services rendered in relation to the Government's abortive decentralisation policy; over €200,000 from John Gormley's Department of the Environment; almost €100,000 from the Department of Finance; €100,000 from the Pensions Ombudsman and the Citizens' Information Board; and €80,000 from the Department of Community and Rural Affairs. McCann Fitzgerald was also retained for a number of jobs by Mary Hanafin's Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism, without proper tendering.

Legal fees from the Revenue Commissioners accounted for €22.9m of the total amount spent since 2007. Ivor Fitzpatrick and Co Solicitors received €3,240,432 for services rendered; Matheson Ormsby Prentice received €3,080,237; Holmes, O'Malley, Sexton received €2,897,187 and Mason Hayes & Curran received €2,588,328.

William Fry Solicitors was contracted for work by several departments and received more than €280,000.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent yesterday, Mr Hayes said: "These extraordinary figures show the manner in which all departments wasted public money on legal services in recent years. It shows a complete dereliction of duty by ministers.

"That many of these jobs were awarded without proper tendering means that Fianna Fail must be accountable for allowing this to happen."

Sunday Independent