Troika expected to seek swift enactment of overhaul of legal profession

Inspectors here to carry out final review of bailout expected to press Government

IMF official Peter Breuer (left) and Craig Beaumont, IMF mission chief for Ireland, in Dublin. This is the 12th review visit by officials. Photograph: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

IMF official Peter Breuer (left) and Craig Beaumont, IMF mission chief for Ireland, in Dublin. This is the 12th review visit by officials. Photograph: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

Wed, Oct 30, 2013, 01:01

The Government is set to come under further pressure from the troika to advance a long-awaited overhaul of the legal profession as its inspectors carry out their final review of the bailout.

Officials from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund arrived in Dublin yesterday for a 10-day mission, their 12th visit under the rescue programme agreed almost three years ago.

Debate over the terms of any emergency credit line and the associated fiscal policy conditions is set to dominate the final weeks of the bailout, which concludes in mid-December.

Further troika attention centres on a mini-stress test on Ireland’s banks, which is ongoing. This examination is known formally as an asset quality review and it is a prelude to wider stress tests next year on all large euro zone banks.

Unforeseen weakness
However, the early scrutiny of the Irish lenders reflects a troika demand for clarity about the current situation within the banks – and anxiety about any risk of unforeseen weakness – in the run-up to the formal exit from the bailout.

While the inspectors will examine the health and social welfare provisions set out in Budget 2014, they are also expected to focus their attention on unfinished elements of the reform programme set out in the bailout agreement. An informed source said that the long delay in the enactment of the Legal Services Regulation Bill ranks high among the inspectors’ concerns.

The draft law, which is designed to reduce legal costs, has been viewed with apprehension by many in the legal world.

The reform package, which includes the creation of barrister-solicitor and multidisciplinary partnerships, has been criticised by the professional bodies for both barristers and solicitors.

Legislation unveiled
The Government unveiled the legislation in 2011 and the committee stage Dáil debate started in March 2012, but it was then delayed by more than a year until July. While Government amendments to the first four parts of the Bill were introduced at that time, the committee stage debate is not due to resume until next month and a further swathe of amendments to the most contentious elements of the draft law are still awaited.

Legal reforms
Having queried the slow pace of the parliamentary debate in previous missions, the troika is now expected to demand a further update from the Coalition and to seek a swift enactment of the legal reforms.

The commission gave its blessing to the fiscal strategy in the budget before it was published, but the inspectors are expected to look in detail at the plan. Scrutiny on contentious health provisions in the budget is likely on this front.

Still at issue, two weeks after the fiscal plan was published, are questions over the validity of the forecast savings to be derived from the Haddington Road pay deal and the audit of the medical card scheme.

The assumptions set out in the budget are viewed with deep suspicion by health service managers.

A further question of ongoing concern to the troika is its push for more “labour market activation” measures to encourage unemployed people to pursue job opportunities .