Taoiseach and Opposition leaders meet to mull Siteserv inquiry

Cregan commission inquiring into sale of construction services group to Denis O’Brien

Leo Varadkar conceded in January that the estimated final cost for the commission could exceed €30m.

Leo Varadkar conceded in January that the estimated final cost for the commission could exceed €30m.

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has begun consultations with senior Opposition figures over the future of the inquiry into the sale of infrastructure company Siteserv to Denis O’Brien.

The negotiations herald the likely publication of the Cregan commission’s interim report. Mr Varadkar requested this report in December, asking for interim findings or conclusions, options for reducing the timeframe, an estimate of likely costs and risks to completion.

Mr Varadkar met this morning with representatives from Sinn Féin, the Social Democrats and the rural Independent group to update them on progress made by the inquiry, which is being led by Judge Brian Cregan.

Mr Varadkar told the meeting that he is considering granting an extension to the commission up until the end of March next year, a timeframe which the sole member requested last year. He favours doing so with the support of all parties.

It is also likely that the Government will publish the commission’s interim report by Friday. Mr Varadkar had requested the interim report from the judge towards the end of last year amid questions over whether the commission could reasonably expect to achieve its goals, or whether it was being slowed down by the sheer scale of the process, which involves analysing hundreds of thousands of documents and hearing hundreds of hours of testimony.

A Government spokesman confirmed that Mr Varadkar met Opposition leaders to consult them on the extension. “A decision on a further extension will be made shortly and the latest interim report will then be published.”

So far, the commission has examined only the sale of the Siteserv loans, which were sold to Mr O’Brien after €110 million of its debts were written off by the Irish Banking Resolution Corporation (IBRC) in 2012. However, the commission has a mandate to investigate all deals which resulted in a capital loss of at least €10 million to IBRC which was formed out of the remnants of Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide Building Society.

Running since 2015

The estimated final cost for the commission could exceed €30 million, Mr Varadkar told the Dáil in January. Between the time it was established and the end of last year, costs of the inquiry had already hit €5 million.

The commission was established in 2015. A series of extensions have already been requested and granted, while the Government had to introduce special legislation and amend its terms of reference in 2016.

Island Capital Management, which is linked to Denis O’Brien, has launched a high court action against the commission. Island is challenging a ruling by the commission on the treatment of certain documents, claiming it erred in law and breached its rights in finding that the Commission of Investigations Act permits it retain documents over which Island has claimed privilege, and to review those documents on an ongoing basis as the commission proceeds with a view to examining and re-examining the claim of privilege.