€3.5m set aside for Moriarty tribunal

 

A SIXTH of the total budget allocated to the Department of the Taoiseach this year has been ring-fenced for costs relating to the Moriarty tribunal, which investigated payments to politicians.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny presented the 2011 estimates for his department to the Dáil finance committee yesterday; they revealed €3.5 million of the entire €21 million budget has been set aside for the inquiry.

The tribunal, which has cost €41 million so far, issued its second and final report in March and will invite and rule on applications for third-party costs before winding up its affairs.

“I cannot provide an accurate estimate of the final cost of the tribunal until it has concluded that final aspect of its work. It is likely, of course, to be significant and this will have to be provided for separately when the outcome is known,” Mr Kenny said.

Government backbencher Olivia Mitchell of Fine Gael raised concerns with Mr Kenny about the amount of money allocated to the tribunal, which she pointed out was a sixth of the total budget of the Taoiseach’s department. She also asked Mr Kenny if the fixing of third-party costs might continue into next year.

“I’m sure you’re very conscious that the actual estimate for this year is a whole sixth of your budget,” Ms Mitchell said. “It’s a huge, huge sum of money. Have you any idea at this stage whether it will run into next year?”

Mr Kenny said he did not know how long it would take but said it was likely to continue into 2012. “I have no idea of how long it’s going to take to fix third-party costs and that could well run into next year . . . I can’t answer the question and nobody else can either. When that process starts, of awarding third-party costs, it could well, and probably will, to be honest with you, run into next year,” he said.

The taoiseach of the day usually appears before an Oireachtas committee just once a year for a vote on departmental estimates.

The tribunal was established in October 1997 under its sole member, Mr Justice Michael Moriarty, and has lasted much longer than was expected at the time of its establishment. Its terms of reference included sections dealing with the late former taoiseach Charles Haughey and Tipperary North TD and former minister for communications Michael Lowry.

In March it found Mr Lowry “secured the winning” of the 1995 mobile phone licence competition for businessman Denis O’Brien’s Esat Digifone. It also found that Mr O’Brien made two payments to Mr Lowry in 1996 and 1999 totalling approximately £500,000 and supported a loan of £420,000 sterling given to Mr Lowry in 1999. In his 2,348-page report, Mr Justice Moriarty found that the payments from Mr O’Brien were “demonstrably referable to the acts and conduct of Mr Lowry” during the licence process, acts which benefited Esat Digifone.

The licence granted to Esat was one of the most sought-after commercial licences granted by an Irish government. It was the foundation for Mr O’Brien’s successful career in international telecoms. The report said there had been repeated efforts to mislead and frustrate the tribunal and to conceal the links between Mr O’Brien and Mr Lowry, contributing to the time the tribunal had taken.

In order to complete its work the tribunal must also deal with outstanding litigation and archive and return to its owners the large quantity of documentation and material accumulated by it in the course of its inquiries.