Monday 21 January 2019

Inquiry legal costs must not spiral on auto-pilot, says TD

PAC member's concern amid claim bill for IBRC probe could hit €100m

Marc MacSharry is worried about increased fees
Marc MacSharry is worried about increased fees
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

A member of the Dail's powerful Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has expressed concern over legal costs at commissions of inquiry in the wake of a claim that as much as €100m may end up being spent on a probe into IBRC transactions.

Fianna Fail TD Marc MacSharry said the State must not be deterred from such investigations, but cannot take an "auto-pilot approach" to spiralling costs.

He suggested that the PAC may have a role in reviewing spending on legal and other professional fees.

His remarks come after former IBRC chief executive Mike Aynsley claimed that the Cregan Commission of Inquiry would cost as much as €100m.

The commission was set up to examine deals where the State booked big losses when IBRC - the former Anglo Irish Bank - sold assets, which included the sale of Siteserv to businessman Denis O'Brien.

Mr O'Brien is a significant shareholder in INM which publishes this newspaper.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last month told the Dail that it had been estimated that the probe could cost up to €25m.

Since then, Mr Aynsley issued a statement claiming that the final bill for investigating asset sales by IBRC could reach €100m and he alleged that it had been launched without firm evidence. "It wouldn't surprise me if it's up to €100m when the costs of all parties are paid and we find ourselves many years down the road," he said.

Mr Aynsley said more than 30 lawyers were now working at the commission.

He claimed the Government had been urged to begin an "extraordinarily expensive investigation on dubious grounds".

Mr Aynsley alleged that the commission was "set up based on misrepresentation of information by faceless people with an ulterior agenda".

He added: "Given the lack of validated detail and transparency around what and who has driven this outcome, I find it incredibly disappointing that the Irish taxpayer is yet again being lumped with this massive cost."

Mr MacSharry told the Sunday Independent that fears over the cost of such probes "should in no way deter the State from continuing appropriate investigations in the interests of taxpayers".

But he added: "Obviously an auto-pilot approach to these costs cannot be taken."

He said a "hands-on approach" was needed to ensure the State was getting value for money, adding: "Perhaps there's a role for the Public Accounts Committee within that."

Mr MacSharry stressed that any such intervention must not delay commission proceedings.

He said in relation to commissions of inquiry: "It's incumbent on us in the interests of the taxpayer to get to the truth of these matters [being probed]. It's also incumbent on us to do so in an expeditious, efficient and cost-effective manner."

Mr MacSharry raised concerns over sums paid to "companies between the two canals in Dublin" for legal and professional fees in relation to various inquiries.

Last month, the Government confirmed that it had refused to increase the fees paid to lawyers involved in commissions of investigation. The decision came after the judge overseeing the IBRC inquiry, Mr Justice Brian Cregan, pressed for fees paid to barristers to be almost doubled. Senior counsel working on commissions of investigation are paid €788 per day, while a junior counsel earns €394.

In an interim report to the Government last December, Mr Cregan sought for fees to be brought in line with those paid to barristers working at the separate Disclosures Tribunal.

Senior counsel at the tribunal are paid €1,500 per day, while junior counsel earn €800 per day.

Speaking in the Dail, the Taoiseach said the commission maintained the current rates were "inadequate and are becoming problematic".

But Mr Varadkar said that, following discussions with Opposition parties, his department had informed the judge that the request was being refused.

Meanwhile, a series of texts involving a PR consultant and a TD have emerged in court documents. The texts were sent before the setting-up of the inquiry. The court has been told the texts were between PR man Karl Brophy and former Fianna Fail TD Colm Keaveney.

According to court documents, the texts include parliamentary questions suggested by Mr Brophy for Mr Keaveney to ask in relation to the Siteserv sale.

Sunday Independent

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