Friday 20 July 2018

Garda legal bill in Harrison case 'will hit €100k'

Tusla bill at Tribunal module to also reach six figures

'The allegations made by Mr Harrison and his partner, Marisa Sims, were comprehensively rejected by Mr Justice Peter Charleton, the chair of the tribunal, in a scathing interim report delivered last Thursday' (stock photo)
'The allegations made by Mr Harrison and his partner, Marisa Sims, were comprehensively rejected by Mr Justice Peter Charleton, the chair of the tribunal, in a scathing interim report delivered last Thursday' (stock photo)

Mark O'Regan and Maeve Sheehan

The utterly discredited allegations made by Garda Keith Harrison at are expected to cost the taxpayer thousands of euros in legal bills.

Gardai are facing a legal bill of "approximately €100,000" for defending its members from Mr Harrison's accusations over 19 days of the Disclosure Tribunal's hearings, according to a senior source. The figure does not include the cost of "thousands of work hours" spent on cooperating with the tribunal outside of court sittings.

Tusla, the child and family agency, also faces a huge legal bill. It was wrongly accused by Harrison and his partner, Marisa Sims, of being "leaned on" by gardai to intervene in Sims's family.

The agency expended considerable time and resources investigating the couple's allegations. A spokesperson for the agency was unable to provide a breakdown or an estimate of the legal costs last Friday. Legal sources said that Tusla's legal bill from fighting the false allegations are also expected to be "not short of" six figures. The bill will ultimately be picked up by the taxpayer.

The allegations made by Mr Harrison and his partner, Marisa Sims, were comprehensively rejected by Mr Justice Peter Charleton, the chair of the tribunal, in a scathing interim report delivered last Thursday. "They have claimed to be the victims of a malicious procession of events. This is not so," the judge concluded.

Meanwhile, new records show the Disclosures Tribunal is costing the taxpayer more than €53,000 a month in various charges. Past tribunals have posed a significant financial burden on taxpayers - the Planning Tribunal cost €159m, the Morris tribunal about €70m and the Moriarty tribunal €55m. Now, new figures obtained by the Sunday Independent reveal €111,000 has been spent on the Disclosures Tribunal's legal team.

Records show one of the country's leading lawyers is earning, on average, more than €13,000 a month.

Senior counsel Diarmaid McGuinness has received the largest individual payments, with his legal bills totalling €81,000. Practising in administrative and criminal law, his specialities include planning and local government law, as well as constitutional law.

Tribunal lawyers Lalita Morgan Pillay and Emma Toal have received €15,744 and €14,268 respectively.

Each week, an average of €457 is being spent on stationery and various office supplies.

Chaired by Supreme Court Judge Peter Charleton, the inquiry is examining allegations that senior gardai were involved in a smear campaign against the whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe.

From March to August, some €121,000 was the expenditure on administrative staff salaries and "related expenditure".

Separately, various "administration" costs have so far reached €89,645. In total, €11,900 has been allocated on "stationery and office supplies". Some €22,700 has been spent on computer equipment, as well as specialist IT training and software.

Spending on taxis totalled €246, with office cleaning costing €2,400. 'Security' expenses for shredding or tagging sensitive documents and folders stands at €820. A further €36,600 has been allocated for stenographers and costs associated with tribunal transcripts.

The tribunal's next public hearings will take place in early January, when it will examine the legal strategy employed by former Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan at the O'Higgins Commission.

The tribunal says a central part of the inquiry is attitudes to Sgt McCabe and whether that translated into malicious behaviour or inappropriate action.

The tribunal is also carrying out a scoping exercise on any other garda whistleblowers who feel they may have been targeted.

Sunday Independent

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