Mahon tribunal expected to cost up to €250m

Politicians and public now weary of tribunals

Mr Justice Alan Mahon has told the Government the final cost may be about €247 million.

Mr Justice Alan Mahon has told the Government the final cost may be about €247 million.


They were once seen as the ultimate signal of a government’s commitment to get to grips with allegations of scandal or abuse, but long experience of costly, drawn-out tribunals of inquiry have left politicians and public weary of the format.

As of last January, the planning tribunal had cost at least €110 million, including the third-party claims and the fees paid to tribunal lawyers. Its chairman, Mr Justice Alan Mahon, has told the Government the final cost may be about €247 million.

Over a period of 15 years, the tribunal steadily grew more complex and costly. It produced 60,000 pages of evidence, 76,000 pages of correspondence, heard from 400 witnesses and sat for 917 days.

The tribunal’s internal legal team alone clocked up costs of almost €50 million, and the process made multimillionaires of a number of lawyers. Between 1997 and 2012, six barristers received between €3.2 million and €5.56 million each, and 11 others earned more than €1 million.

In 2010, the Government made an effort to cut costs, reducing the daily rates for senior counsel from €2,070 a day to €1,760 and for junior counsel from €1,380 to €1,173. But despite unearthing some startling revelations, the tribunals are now synonymous with waste and delay.

Some of these problems were beyond the tribunal’s control. It had lots of allegations to examine. Court challenges were common, and each one contributed further to the delays.

Despite the criticism, it was never true that nothing came of the tribunal. Two people spent time in jail. About €50 million in extra tax has been raised from those investigated by the tribunal. The final report identified 14 politicians who were corrupt.

But, in the public mind, the biggest frustration of all was that more heads didn’t roll. Some of the corrupt councillors were dead by the time the final report was published. Tribunals weren’t courts – they couldn’t establish liability or punish individuals through criminal sanction. Their findings were based on the balance of probabilities, but that wouldn’t suffice in a courtroom, where an allegation has to be proved beyond reasonable doubt.

Today, there is general agreement that tribunals of inquiry are too unwieldy, slow and expensive.