Tribunal to examine why the IBRC accepted an offer from Denis O’Brien’s Millington for Siteserv, when it was the lowest of the bids
Taoiseach Micheál Martin will make a very brief appearance at the tribunal examining the controversial sale of a company by the State-owned former Anglo Irish Bank.
It’s the first time a sitting Taoiseach will be a witness at a tribunal since Bertie Ahern was quizzed about his personal finances 13 years ago. The fallout resulted in his resignation as taoiseach.
Mr Martin will take time out next Thursday to give testimony at the Commission of Investigation into the sale of the utility company Siteserv to businessman Denis O’Brien.
The sale by the State bank, the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, is the most contentious item being examined by the tribunal.
It is understood Mr Martin’s appearance in the box has been curtailed due to his busy schedule, so his testimony and cross-examination by other parties will be limited.
The questioning of Mr Martin will focus predominantly on an alleged meeting with former IBRC executive and senior Department of Finance official, Neil Ryan, in early 2015. Other parties at the tribunal will be interested in what he knew when he was raising questions, especially if he was briefed on the financial affairs of individuals.
Mr Martin’s interest in the Siteserv deal, and the pressure he put on the then-government to investigate, intensified in the period after the alleged meeting.
Unlike Mr Ahern’s celebrated testimony at the Mahon Tribunal into allegations of planning corruption, the Commission of Investigation into IBRC operates behind closed doors, from rooms in the Labour Court in Dublin 4.
Mr Martin gave a written statement to the tribunal two years ago. He was expected to appear last year, but the tribunal’s work has been repeatedly delayed.
Nearly seven years after the controversy first came into the public domain, the Commission of Investigation – which will cost a potential €70m – is still ongoing.
The commission is looking into any transactions where there was a loss of €10m or more to the State bank. The Taoiseach is both directly responsible for the commission’s work and a star witness.
Irish Bank Resolution Corporation was the name given to the entity formed in 2011 by the court-mandated merger of State-owned Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide Building Society.
Siteserv was a company that provided services, such as barriers around roadworks and scaffolding for construction sites. It borrowed €150m from IBRC. It couldn’t pay it back so it was sold off.
Millington, controlled by Mr O’Brien, bought it in 2012 for €45m. The deal saw the writing-off of €105m of debts.
The tribunal is examining why the IBRC accepted a bid from Mr O’Brien’s Millington for Siteserv, when it was the lowest of the bids and resulted in a loss to the State of €105m.
Following a political controversy, the Government set up a Commission of Investigation in June 2015 to examine transactions that led to a loss for IBRC of €10m. The first module of the commission, under Judge Brian Cregan, was specifically focused on Siteserv. The investigation continues nearly six years later.
In opposition, Mr Martin’s position on the Siteserv deal ranged from raising questions to demanding an inquiry, then complaining about the costs and length of time the inquiry was taking.
In Government, the Taoiseach has extended its time frame and says he can’t say when it will finish.
The commission was supposed to issue its final report by December 2015, at a cost of €4m. The Commission of Investigation is now due to finish in October after being extended again by Mr Martin.
The estimates of the cost range from the €9m spent so far up to €70m, when all parties’ legal costs are paid.