Monday 23 April 2018

Bill for inquiry culture hits €315m

'Enormous' cost set to triple as multi-million fees are handed out to lawyers -- new report

DANIEL McCONNELL Chief Reporter

The "enormous" cost of tribunals of inquiry to the taxpayer has now topped €315m, and could be triple that when all fees, mainly legal fees, are eventually met, latest figures compiled by the Government and seen by the Sunday Independent reveal.

The staggering costs of these tribunals of inquiry, which date back to the Beef Tribunal in 1991, are set to soar even further in the wake of the pending publication of the Mahon Tribunal.

Mahon is likely to report once the presidential race is over, and is expected to be very critical of former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

Figures released by Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin reveal that up until the end of August, established tribunals have cost the taxpayer €315.7m.

Of that, €72.5m comprised administration, and €243.2m was derived from legal costs. The legal costs figures include €118.3m for third-party legal costs that are already paid. Further third-party legal costs have yet to be presented and taxed, Mr Howlin said.

As a result of the spending on legal fees, 23 lawyers have become "tribunal millionaires", despite repeated statements from the previous government that costs would be "brought under control".

Speaking to the Sunday Independent yesterday, Mr Howlin said that the cost to the taxpayer of running tribunals has been "enormous".

He added: "We must find a far more cost effective way of investigating matters of public interest. That is why we are holding the referendum on October 27 to give powers to Oireachtas Committees to enquire into such matters," he said.

The most expensive inquiry will undoubtedly be the Mahon Tribunal into planning matters, which will conservatively cost one-third of the overall bill.

To date, the Mahon Tribunal has cost about €96m, but that sum is expected to at least triple when third-party bills eventually come in.

As part of that €96m, €29m has been spent on administration costs, €57m has been spent on legal fees for the State and €10m has gone on legal fees for third parties.

The highest-paid legal eagle at the Mahon tribunal is Bertie Ahern's old foe Des O'Neill, who has been paid more than €5,279,311, according to figures released earlier this year. Mr O'Neill's final bill is set to be considerably higher once the tribunal has concluded its work.

Senior Counsel Patricia Dillon has earned €5,591,889 for her work at the tribunal and fellow silk Patrick Quinn has received €4,975,377. Again their figures are likely to be higher at the conclusion of the tribunal.

The final cost of the planning tribunal will, therefore, be more than €300m, the sum predicted by its chairman, Alan Mahon, back in 2007.

While the Revenue Commissioners have recovered, and will continue to recover, substantial sums as a result of the inquiries of some of the tribunals, there can be little doubt that when the system of inquiry was initially introduced, nobody anticipated that, 15 years later, the final bill would be around €1bn.

According to the figures, the Beef Tribunal, which ran between 1991 and July 1994 and investigated improper practices within the beef industry, cost €27.2m.

The McCracken Tribunal, which investigated payments to politicians by businessman Ben Dunne, cost €6.5m. It concluded its work in August 1997.

The Finlay Tribunal, which concluded in March 1997, and investigated the Blood Transfusion Board, cost €4.7m between administration and legal costs.

The Moriarty Tribunal examined payments to former Taoiseach Charles Haughey and former Fine Gael minister and now independent TD Michael Lowry. It concluded in March of this year, and has cost the taxpayer a staggering €42.7m. Included in that spend were multi-million payments to lawyers.

According to recent figures, Senior Counsel Jerry Healy has been paid €9,490,181 for his services, while his inner bar colleagues John Coughlan has received €9,285,620 and Jacqueline O'Brien has received €6,707,917.

Sunday Independent

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