Major cuts to legal fees of tribunal witnesses

 

CUTS OF up to 87 per cent have been imposed on the legal fees sought by witnesses to the planning tribunal, according to figures from the Department of the Environment.

Eight of the 76 parties who have settled their legal costs of representation at the inquiry have had their fees reduced by at least half, while 32 parties have suffered cuts of at least one-quarter.

The reductions were imposed after a process which saw applications for legal costs assessed by external legal costs accountants and, in some cases, adjudicated by the Taxing Master.

Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan has written to the tribunal seeking an up-to-date estimate of its future costs so an overall assessment of the bill for the inquiry can be made.

The department, on foot of a request by the Dáil Public Accounts Committee, is also seeking the attendance records for lawyers seeking fees who attended at the tribunal.

The biggest single cut was the reduction of almost €1 million imposed on the bill submitted by the legal team for whistleblower James Gogarty.

The late Mr Gogarty, who was represented by McCann Fitzgerald and barristers Frank Callinan and Brian O’Moore, was awarded costs of €3.57 million, a 21 per cent reduction in the amount sought.

So far, the tribunal has cost €98 million, according to figures compiled by the department for the committee. This includes €30 million in tribunal costs, €50 million to pay for its legal teams, €15 million on court cases and €10 million on third-party costs. However, the majority of third party costs, including those relating to the recently published final report of the tribunal, have yet to be determined.

The department says the tribunal is independent in the organisation and conduct of its work and, accordingly, prior sanction is not needed for spending on routine goods and services.

The three members of the tribunal, judges Alan Mahon, Gerald Keys and Mary Faherty, have been paid €4.6 million in salary and allowances since their appointment in 2002, the department has also told the committee. The three Circuit Court judges are currently earning a salary of €156,248 per annum.

Century Radio co-founder John Mulhern had his legal bill reduced by 87 per cent, from €213,000 to €28,000.

However, his case differs from the others as tribunal chairman Judge Alan Mahon determined that he should get only 25 per cent of his costs after the inquiry found that he failed to co-operate.

The amount sought was then further reduced by the taxation process.

Donnelly Neary and Donnelly, the Newry-based solicitors who represented two lawyers who put up the £10,000 reward for information of planning corruption which helped bring about the tribunal, had their fees cut by 58 per cent.

Gerry Downes, a former work colleague of Mr Gogarty’s, had his legal fees cut by 45 per cent, from €1.15 million to €633,000. He was represented by solicitors Brian Rigney Co and barristers Brian Leonard and Peter O’Leary.

Other large reductions were imposed on lawyers for former Fianna Fáil TD Gerard Brady (52 per cent), deceased solicitor Denis McArdle (52 per cent), Fitz-wilton Ltd (53 per cent), Grange Developments (62 per cent) and the Irish branch of Investec bank (61 per cent).

Fianna Fáil’s costs were trimmed by 16 per cent and Fine Gael’s by 7 per cent.