Miriam Lord’s Week

The running costs of tribunals, Kenny’s studs-up approach on Colllins and Finian McGrath is faster than Luis Suarez

Luis Suarez may have scored in the World Cup but when it comes to recovering from injury he can’t hold a candle to  Finian McGrath. Photograph: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

Luis Suarez may have scored in the World Cup but when it comes to recovering from injury he can’t hold a candle to Finian McGrath. Photograph: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

Sat, Jun 21, 2014, 07:25

Tribunal running costs pick up pace

It seems m’learned friends are licking their chops as the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry gets down to business.

Toot! Toot! Is the gravy train rolling again?

At the Committee’s inaugural meeting on Thursday, members were told by officials that it’s looking like lawyers and solicitors will be seeking “tribunal rates” for their work.

As the inquiry is still in the preliminary stages, the committee is only beginning the task of nailing down its running costs, but the early indications they heard from the legal front are not encouraging.

As politicians whispered about this worrying development yesterday, one government deputy remarked “the sword of Damocles is hanging over that committee now. If this is true, the cost could run into millions upon millions.”

Word in Leinster House is that representatives of the legal profession have indicated at this early stage that fees should be pitched on a par with Mahon and Moriarty.

“Fears were expressed at Thursday’s meeting that the legal eagles are limbering up for full tribunal rates. The members got quite a shock when they heard this. It really is an appalling vista.”

Numbers were quoted to the committee “that would make your toes curl.”

After Thursday’s meeting, Chairman Ciaran Lynch gave a businesslike account of their deliberations as members got down to the difficult job of preparing a detailed proposal for the inquiry.

He said next week’s meeting will a “substantive” discussion on the scope of the inquiry, the timeline for the preparation of the proposal and completion of the inquiry.

They also agreed that it “should be cost-effective.”

“We received a clear and detailed picture of the legal context in which the inquiry will take place and the committee agreed in principle to seek the services of legal or banking expertise where it may be required throughout the process,” he said.

Ciaran’s calm words did not convey the sense of disquiet during the meeting at the notion that the inquiry could result in a gravy train for lawyers and a crippling legal costs bill for the taxpayer. There were even suggestions of people doing “nixers” at a lower price, if possible.

“This is the first major challenge facing the inquiry and the members are really determined to keep the costs down. But the spectre of tribunal rates is already haunting them.”

We hear some members are hoping they can negotiate down the price by trying to convince the legal people that their work is in the national interest.

Appealing to their sense of public duty.

You never know, it might work.

Backbencher Griffin fronts up

More friction at the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting.

This time, it was Kerry backbencher Brendan Griffin who let fly, irked by a smart remark in his direction from the Taoiseach.

Griffin had some harsh words to say about the state of the party in the aftermath of the local elections and said the party needed to change direction and freshen-up in order to halt and reverse the slide.

In a number of radio interviews, the Castlemaine man suggested that, as a start, the Taoiseach should carry out a “comprehensive” cabinet reshuffle. It was subsequently reported in some quarters that Griffin had recommended that the entire cabinet be given the boot.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Enda told the troops that the party had endured a very difficult few weeks, and that he was personally facing into some difficult weeks ahead as he considered his reshuffle.

“Some people want me to keep their jobs and Brendan wants to get rid of them all.”

Griffin corrected him. “Not everyone.”

As the meeting wore on, the young TD, was clearly irritated by Enda’s remark. When he stood up to speak, he reiterated that he didn’t want to see all the ministers sacked, but he wanted to see fresh faces at cabinet level.

“He didn’t hold back, that’s for sure” said a colleague afterwards. “He berated the top table for not listening to backbenchers, who had been telling them about the medical card problems for over a year. He called for a ‘change in mentality’ and a more professional approach to government.

“The Enda loyalists were tut-tutting and letting out big sighs.”

Griffin, who is a first time TD, said that if changes aren’t made to the way the party does its business, they will go back to holding parliamentary party meetings in the little room in the basement that they used for years.

He also spoke of an element of “toxicity and negativity about the Fine Gael brand” which he hadn’t seen before. And as for the setting of the banking inquiry - the government had “made a complete balls” of it.

Enda listened in silence as his backbencher said the reshuffle should be “pivotal.”

Not for Griffin, one assumes.

Or those deputies and senators who shouted “good man” when he finished.

Although after the reshuffle, Brendan Griffin may find a few more supporters among the ranks of the passed over. For now, they’re keeping their powder dry in the hope of a call from Enda.

Visiting Germans leave a sweet taste

The Germans like to keep the Irish sweet, as Michael Noonan might say to Angela Merkel

On Wednesday, the members of the Oireachtas Finance Committee had an informal meeting in Leinster House with their German counterparts from the Bundestag’s Finance Committee.

It was all very cordial - a credit to the forbearance of the home team, given Ireland’s history on the debt front with their visitors. There was “a frank exchange of views” says Labour’s Kevin Humphreys.

In fairness, there was nothing sinister about the meeting. Delegations from parliamentary committees abroad regularly visit Leinster House to exchange information and views with their fellow parliamentarians.

The Germans were over to look at how our economy is progressing and were particularly interested in the areas of taxation and shadow banking. The Irish talked about banking and broached the issue of a deal on our legacy debt.

Interestingly, some the German politicians suggested to them that Ireland should consider employing a good public relations firm in their country to sell the story about our massive debt.

They explained that their voters don’t have much sympathy for us on the banking front and can’t see why they should help ease Ireland’s financial burden.

When the meeting ended, one of the delegation opened his briefcase and said “we will leave you now with a sweet taste in your mouth.”

And then each TD was presented with a beautifully wrapped slab of chocolate, with a raised image of the Reichstag Building on the front of it.

Michael Noonan met the delegation earlier in the day. He got a chocolate Reichstag plaque too.

A lovely gesture, but Noonan is still holding out hope for a different kind of sweetener from the Germans.

Dancer McGrath is faster than Luis Suarez

Following a nasty Charleston-related knee injury, independent TD Finian McGrath finally went under the knife last week.

It’s six months since Finian tore his cartilage while dancing the black-bottom with Mary Mitchell O’Connor, and he’s been hobbling around ever since. McGrath and Mitchell O’Connor were in training for a charity dance competition when the TD for Dublin Bay North put his knee out while attempting to sashay from the Charleston into the Black-bottom. “I was throwing shapes around the place and all of a sudden, the knee just went bang.”

So he took himself off to the doctor, who wanted to operated immediately. “I said I couldn’t be off the pitch for the local elections, so he patched me up and told me to come back when they were over.”

Finian duly presented himself at the Sports Surgery Clinic in Santry last Thursday week, where Stefan Byrne performed keyhole surgery. “He told me I’ll be back dancing and playing over 50s soccer within a month.”

Deputy McGrath is very proud of his injury. Apparently World Cup star Luis Suarez was out of action with a cartilage problem too.

“He had his operation last month and only returned to work on Thursday night” says Finian of the Liverpool ace who scored the two goals in Uruguay’s win over England. “I went in on the Thursday and I was back in work in the Dail on Tuesday.”

The reason behind Kenny’s studs-up approach on Collins?

There were some raised eyebrows this week over the ferocity of the Taoiseach’s denunciation of Fianna Fail’s Justice spokesman Niall Collins, who landed himself in trouble after he sent a letter to a court pleading for leniency on compassionate grounds for a convicted drugs dealer.

Enda went in “with the studs showing” was how broadcaster Sean O’Rourke put it yesterday.

One might think the Taoiseach might have had other things to occupy his time, but then again, Kenny and Collins have previous in this area.

Back in October of 2012, the Taoiseach was at the centre of a controversy after he wrote to the Minister for Justice to enquire about a family law case. Alan Shatter politely told his boss that he could not help him.

Niall Collins was outraged and he demanded the Taoiseach explain his actions.

“The decision of the Taoiseach to use his position to seek information on behalf of a constituent in a family law case constitutes an outrageous failure of judgment,” fumed Niall. “The Taoiseach needs to explain publicly the background to his involvement and apologise to the parties that could have been negatively affected by his intervention.”

Kenny’s letters to Shatter represented “an outrageous failure of judgement.”

Enda’s anger this week about this blunder was well matched by Niall’s indignation in 2012.

“The news that the Taoiseach of our country is involving himself and his office in an individual case will make a lot of people very uncomfortable.”

But not Niall Collins, Justice spokesman of the main oppostion party, who appeared to have forgotten his own words.

But Enda clearly didn’t.

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