Government departments paid €24m in legal fees in last five years

Tue, Jan 29, 2013, 00:00

Government departments have paid out more than €24 million in legal fees to solicitors, barristers and law firms in the last five years.

Advice provided to the Department of Finance on the State’s banking system accounted for almost three-quarters of the total spend, with Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and Health the second and third-largest spending departments respectively.

On an annual basis, the figures show total legal fees paid by the departments of €4.98 million in 2008, €7.06 million in 2009, €6.02 million in 2010, €2.3 million in 2011 and €3.9 million last year.

Figures provided in response to parliamentary questions from Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald show the Department of Finance paid out almost €17.1 million in legal fees between 2008 and the end of last year.

Bank guarantee

The State’s largest law firm Arthur Cox received some €16.5 million of the sum for providing advice on matters such as the bank guarantee, bank stabilisation and recapitalisation, and advice on the State’s shareholding in the banks.

The figures show Arthur Cox received fees from the department of some €2.8 million last year, €1.4 million in 2011, €4.8 million in 2010, €5.9 million in 2009 and €1.6 million in 2008.

The firm was initially appointed on an untendered basis due to the urgency of the situation regarding the banks but the department said it no longer received advice from any firm that had not completed a tender process.

Ms McDonald asked each Government Minister to provide details of spending on advice from senior and junior counsel and firms of solicitors.

“Surely if a single large legal firm is paid millions in public monies each year there is an argument for the Minister for Finance to hire into his department the necessary legal expertise, or indeed for the Government to beef up the capacity of the Attorney General and Chief State Solicitor’s Offices,” Ms McDonald said.

The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (established in June 2011) and Department of the Taoiseach said they had incurred no legal costs in the five-year period, having received all necessary advice from the Office of the Attorney General and the Chief State Solicitor’s Office. Departments receive much of their legal advice from the offices, where combined total salaries amounted to about €25 million per year between 2008 and 2011 and were expected to be at a similar level in 2012.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said it was not possible to obtain details of amounts accruing in respect of such fees but that the use of external firms was kept to a minimum.

Phone licence

The legal bill at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources amounted to some €3.7 million, with costs relating to the Moriarty tribunal, which examined the awarding of the State’s second mobile phone licence, accounting for about a third (€1.2 million) of the sum. The figures show the department paid legal firm McCann Fitzgerald some €925,323 in 2008-09 for advice on the procurement of the National Broadband Scheme and Arthur Cox received €578,229.43 in the same period for advice on the Metropolitan Area Networks programme, relating to the rollout of a fibre optic cabling network. Arthur Cox also received €227,165.94 for advice relating to the Corrib gas pipeline and the Seven Heads gas-field lease off the Cork coast.

The Department of Health incurred legal costs of more than €1 million between 2008 and 2012.