Taxpayers face €400m tribunals legal fees bill
The cost of legal fees for witnesses to the Mahon and Moriarty tribunals is likely to leave the taxpayer with an overall bill of up to €400 million for both inquiries, according to internal Government records.
While both tribunals have completed their final reports, the State has yet to pay the bulk of the legal costs of individuals or corporations who were involved in the tribunals over a 15-year period.
Government documents show that original estimates compiled by the Comptroller and Auditor General several years ago may be exceeded significantly.
A Supreme Court ruling in 2010 – which held that the Mahon tribunal may not be able to refuse costs to witnesses who obstructed its work – has contributed to upward pressure on legal costs.
Briefing material shows that the Mahon tribunal into planning irregularities has cost about €110 million in legal and administrative costs to date.
The tribunal has told the Government that third-party costs for more than 400 witnesses and 9,000 discovery orders could add a further €147 million to the bill.
This would bring the overall total for the Mahon tribunal alone to almost €260 million. Government officials note, however, that the total cost of third-party costs cannot be reliably projected at this point.
The biggest settlements for third-party costs relating to the Mahon Tribunal so far have been made to the legal team representing whistleblower James Gogarty (€3.5 million), who first revealed details of corrupt payments to former minister Ray Burke.
RTÉ settled the largest corporate claim, at just more than €1 million. The broadcaster gave evidence surrounding the tribunal’s investigation into a contribution made by Century Radio’s Oliver Barry to former Fianna Fáil minister Ray Burke. A total of €10 million has been paid in third party legal fees to date.
However, legal costs for the later stages of the tribunal dealing with the allegations of developer Tom Gilmartin and lobbyist Frank Dunlop have yet to be dealt with. These modules alone are expected to run into tens of millions of euro.
Government records show that while legal costs are mounting, the final bills have been significantly cut in many cases after being sent for independent review.
For example, Donnelly Neary and Donnelly – the Newry-based solicitors who represented two lawyers who put up the £10,000 reward for information on planning corruption which helped bring about the tribunal – had its fees cut by 58 per cent.
Anglo Irish Bank – which sought €143,000 for legal costs – had its bill cut to €85,000, a 40 per cent reduction.
Separately, the Moriarty tribunal into the awarding of the State’s second mobile phone licence has accumulated costs of at least €35 million to date. Its total bill is likely to be well in excess of €100 million once it has settled third-party legal costs.