Thursday 26 April 2018

Bid to curb tribunal bills for taxpayer

JOHN DRENNAN

A powerful new "legal enforcer'' will shortly be appointed as the State battles to contain the potential cost to taxpayers of the two longest running tribunals in the country's history.

Concern about putative costs to the Exchequer has risen in the wake of the decision of the Moriarty tribunal to award the legal costs of Charles Haughey to his estate.

Significantly, in the aftermath of the McCracken tribunal, Mr Haughey did not seek his costs.

But despite initial speculation that the Moriarty tribunal might refuse him his costs it is understood the tribunal decided some months ago that he was entitled to them.

Though the costs for Mr Haughey, who was found to have taken payments of €11.56m between 1979 and 1996 in a manner which "devalued the quality of a modern democracy", are expected to be close to €5m, astonishingly these are at the lower end of the scale.

Previously an application by Ray Burke for costs of €10m was rejected, while accountants believe that the legal fees of high-profile tribunal witnesses, such as Denis O'Brien and Michael Lowry, could total up to €20m.

Estimates of the eventual total contingent liability to the tax-payer have to date varied between €250m and €400m.

However, the Sunday Independent has learnt that all tribunal costs will be "forensically examined by the new State legal cost unit'' being set up within the State Claims Agency under the auspices of the NTMA.

One Government source confirmed that it is expected that "this new unit will focus specifically on third-party tribunal costs''.

It is also expected a new director is to be appointed within weeks following an advertising campaign.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, the Labour TD Ged Nash said: "This is an important development. Growing public cynicism about politics will be enhanced if exorbitant fees are simply waved through.''

The TD also expressed the hope that the new enforcer will "put a bridle on the expectations of certain barristers that they will receive boutique-style fees for work done for the State".

Sunday Independent

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