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John Drennan: Big Phil is betting on never-ending inquiry

THERE was more than a hint of the Ghost of Christmas past surrounding the return of George Redmond to public attention last week.

However, while the revelation that Redmond is suing the Mahon tribunal to secure his legal fees may have restored the ghost of tribunal encounters past to our attention, our political establishment will be far more concerned about the spectre of future tribunal bills.

The rest of us, meanwhile, were merely surprised about the ongoing existence of this legal carbuncle.

In its dowdy pomp, the tribunal formerly known as Flood (and now Mahon) toppled Taoisigh and destroyed ministers but today, in the public mind at least, Mr Mahon and Co resemble the famous advert involving the dust-covered phone in the Carlsberg complaints department.

Three years have now passed since the Mahon tribunal sat in stately unloved isolation for its 917th and final public hearing on December 3, 2008. Since then however, with the exception of a series of embarrassing legal defeats in the Supreme Court, the tribunal has evolved into the legal version of the old song about how "you never ring, you never call".

The long, long silence we have experienced since Their Lordships disappeared three years ago, promising to come back as soon as possible, is not the only example of what we shall call tribunal Scarlet Pimpernel syndrome.

We are, it should be noted, also racing towards the 10th anniversary of that sainted day when the interim Flood Tribunal Report of Blessed Mr Justice Flood (BMJF) was published to, mostly, uncritical acclaim.

Those last few dying tribunal apologists will claim the tardy arrival of the successor to Flood's contested report can be explained by the travails of the beaks in having to wade through the meanderings of over 400 witnesses and 60,000 pages of transcripts.

It does sound like a lot, but, one would have expected the superb legal minds of the three Circuit Court Judges that replaced Mr Justice Flood (in case you've forgotten they are Justices Mahon, Faherty and Keyes) would be, after three years and almost 1,200 days, be nearly there by now. After all, simple maths alone means that we are talking about 20 pages of transcripts a day.

Of course the return of Mr Redmond, 87, to the public domain provided us with another fine example of tribunal time at work, for Redmond is attempting to reverse an earlier decision to not award him his legal costs from, wait for it, 2004. Time sure does move slowly in tribunal land.

But like the rest of our Celtic Tiger party, while our tribunals provided us with great fun at the time, the problem, however, is that the legal chits are preparing to come in and provide all of us with a €300m legal bill.

In fairness, in the midst of such plenty, one could hardly blame George for looking for the few quid. This after all is a tribunal which, amongst others, indemnified the legal fees of the sleazy spinning perjurer Frank Dunlop and the utterly untrustworthy serial corruption claimant James Gogarty.

And in the wake of recent developments which mean the tribunal may yet have to settle the massive legal bills of fine characters like Tom Brennan and Joseph McGowan (and don't forget Rambo Burke), it would be a terrible thing if George, who has never had to be asked before on such matters, did not get what was going for free.

The irony of the thing now of course is that, given the extent of the fees that we may be liable for, it would almost suit Phil Hogan, whose department is responsible for the tribunal, if, far from reporting as quickly as possible, the judges were to spend another few decades at their task.

A few lonely tribunal anoraks might want to find out the definitive truth about Bertie and the lads. But truth to tell when it comes to Bertie, most of the cats are out of the bag, doing whatever it is that cats do in a freshly dug garden.

And to be even more cruelly honest the judgement of the three circuit court judges up in Dublin who are still doing whatever it is that they might be doing, will not add a jot of weight to the allegations.

Either you believe the public evidence and the implied charges contained therein or you don't; and if you need three unknown circuit court judges to make your mind up for you then, frankly, you are too wedded to the old culture of deference for your own good.

In a scenario where paying off the lawyers might be nearly as expensive as bailing out a bank (a small one, mind you) a pragmatist like Big Phil will be praying the three little circuit court judges will not report for another few years. After all, like reparations for Germany, the final bill will not feel so expensive if we have to pay it in, oh say, 40 years.

Happily, before we fret too much about the bill it should be noted the Mahon tribunal may be of some service to the State in one small way.

Should we ever get around to deciding to choose a folly to best epitomise the excess of the Celtic Tiger era (indeed Enda might even have a referendum on it) we need not look to the deserted shell of Anglo's proposed HQ, or the Docklands glass-bottle site or the wild and free piebald horses grazing in undisturbed bliss on the derelict site of the Bertie Bowl.

Nothing, you see, captures the essence of how our poor State was run over the last few years more than this self-important, ineffectual, gargantuan, gestating, fiscal hydra which may, even when it finally delivers do more harm than good.

Of course, such a folly will need to be recognised in some permanent fashion in the public sphere.

We suggest, in the Christmas spirit, that what is needed, preferably before the report comes out, is the erection of a statue, to be funded by the voluntary subscriptions of a grateful public, beside the Spike on Dublin's O'Connell Street.

The central feature should be a judge in a wig and gown and should have inscribed, in gold lettering, some tasteful yet inspirational title on the lines of 'the apotheosis of the unknown tribunal millionaire barrister'.

It might even be possible, were we to shut down one of these unnecessary special needs schools, to raise sufficient funds to paint a fresco behind the statue incorporating an adoring Greek chorus of full and half-millionaire tribunal barristers.

Such a wall, if we include all the barristers from the private sector who are poised to secure a similar exalted level of taxpayer payola might, in time, become a tourist attraction.

Like the famous Mylesian 'tomb of the unknown gurrier' it could even attract a nick-name such as 'the wailing wall of the Irish taxpayer'.

We will in passing, and in the spirit of concord, finally note that such a cultural and architectural delight would, like the tomb of Oscar Wilde in Paris, need a protective coating, though perhaps for slightly different reasons to those that apply to Mr Wilde.

Sunday Independent