Cost of legal advice connected to bank crisis 'staggering'

 

CHANGES TO the way the State procures legal services are to be recommended by the Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The committee is to issue a report within weeks which is expected to be critical of the profession’s “archaic” and restrictive practices which it claims are costly and anti-competitive.

The issue is just one area where the PAC wants to see changes in the way the State spends between €16 billion and €17billion a year.

In an address to the Forum on Public Procurement in Ireland yesterday, committee chairman Bernard Allen TD said the committee had determined “legal services in this country are first of all expensive and secondly not subject to competitive tendering”.

The way the State procured such services was “still bound up in archaic ways and means associated with the legal profession. Restrictive practices prevent a competitive market for legal services, and this is something that will have to change.”

Mr Allen said the committee had found costs charged by large legal firms for advice connected with the recent banking crisis to be “staggering”.

“The PAC will issue a report in coming weeks.”

Mr Allen was also critical of some of the procurement practices among State agencies, particularly mentioning an Irish Prison Service contract where the tender was initially for €2.37 million, but which ultimately cost €97 million.

His address was read to the forum yesterday as the Cork TD was detained by events in the Dáil.

Mr Allen said there had been numerous instances where the procurement unit in Fás was used as a “rubber stamp” as internal controls failed.

Fás had denied firms in the market an opportunity to tender for work “whether it was opportunity fairs, advertising or even the refurbishment of rented offices which cost €1 million”.

He said in recent weeks there had been examples of questionable procurement in agencies of the HSE and community development groups which fall under the remit of the Department of Community, Gaeltacht and Rural Affairs.

Mr Allen said the PAC had uncovered Garda cars which were bought “and left sitting idle” for up to 18 months until they could be brought into use.