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John Drennan: €245m planning tribunal to finally report after 14 years

THE longest-running tribunal in the history of the State is set to issue its final report in the last week of June.

The Sunday Independent has learned that the Planning and Payments Tribunal -- formerly known as the Flood and then the Mahon Tribunal -- will conclude just before the Dailbreaks for the summer.

It was established almost 14 years ago, in November 1997. It had originally been expected that the tribunal, which held a record-breaking 917 public sitting days, would not report until the autumn.

However, amidst reports of serious dissatisfaction in government circles and a strong request by the Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan for a report to be issued as swiftly as possible, the report will now come in ahead of schedule.

The official estimate of the final costs of a tribunal that spent years investigating thousand-euro donations to county councillors is €245m.

The tribunal's own direct costs will come to €145m, a figure which far outstrips those of any other tribunal in the history of the State. It is believed that third-party costs will come to €100m.

It had been hoped that the latter would be reduced by the apparent refusal of numerous witnesses to fully co-operate with the tribunal.

However, although it is believed that the Government will cast an icy eye on any attempt by those whom the tribunal makes adverse findings against to recoup their costs, a recent Supreme Court decision -- which overturned the rights of tribunals to refuse costs to uncooperative witnesses -- means that the taxpayer will be expected to foot the legal bills of all witnesses.

The report's final verdict on Bertie Ahern will attract keen political interest. The former Taoiseach has been privately and publicly critical of a tribunal which he believes brought his political career to a premature end.

Although the tribunal at no stage linked any of Mr Ahern's fiscal transactions to any nefarious activities, his reputation was seriously eroded by an often-incomprehensible series of financial transactions.

There is also likely to be much interest centred on its findings about the activities of the colourful deceased Fianna Fail TD Liam Lawlor and the former high-profile FF minister and EU commissioner Padraig Flynn, as well as those of the corrupt spin doctor and serial perjurer Frank Dunlop.

The end of the 14-year-long tribunal will not be mourned by the public. It was initially popular because of its colourful cast of characters, such as the cantankerous James Gogarty, who was involved in the famous "Will we get a receipt ... Will we f**k" exchange.

The builder Tom Gilmartin also became a public favourite because of a series of dramatic claims, such as his alleged view that Fianna Fail "make the mafia look like f**king monks". However, by the turn of the century, perceptions of delay and the emergence of the phenomenon of 'millionaire tribunal barristers' meant the tribunal fell into serious public disrepute.

Sunday Independent