Final bill for Mahon Tribunal to come in under €150m

Initial estimates in 2013 placed the potential cost at more than €200m

Judge Alan Mahon, chairman of the Planning (or Mahon) Tribunal.

Judge Alan Mahon, chairman of the Planning (or Mahon) Tribunal.

 

The final bill for the Mahon Tribunal is expected to come in close to €149.5 million, significantly lower than early estimates of up to €250m, the Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC) heard on Thursday.

So far €131m has been paid out for the long-running planning tribunal, which reported in 2013, John McCarthy, secretary general of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government told the committee.

The outstanding costs related to third party legal fees, with 74 claims yet to be resolved.

Overall there were 319 third party claims for work carried out on the tribunal, but many claims were settled for lesser sums. There is also a “very very reduced” staff operation still in existence, working on administrative issues related to the tribunal, Mr McCarthy said.

The inquiry, set up in 1997, examined suspect payments to politicians and local authority officials in connection with re-zonings in Dublin.

The State Claims Agency(SCA) are dealing with 35 current claims for fees worth €9.2m, which department officials estimate would be settled for close to €8m. The remaining claims that have not yet been sent to the SCA are estimated to be worth around €8m.

The estimated cost of the tribunal has steadily come down since legal fees began to be processed and settled. The €149m figure represents a drop on an estimate of €159m from four years ago. In 2013 initial estimates on the final bill after the report was published ranged from €196m, to as high as €250m.

The third party fees for the public inquiry were expected to be resolved by the end of 2019, department officials told members of the PAC.

Unspent

The public spending watchdog were scrutinising the department accounts from 2016. Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell was critical that €53m in funding for voluntary housing bodies had not been spent, in a time of housing shortages.

“We were really in a state of trying to crank up the public housing programme” Mr McCarthy said, adding there was an initial “slowness” in some areas.

Last year, the department spent €150m on the housing assistance payment (Hap) scheme, where local authority’s support tenants renting in the private market.

The department do not have a dataset on the number of Hap tenancies that have been recently inspected. Under legislation if a Hap tenancy has not been inspected in the last year, it is required to be inspected in the next eight months.

Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O’Brien said the lack of statistics on Hap inspections meant there were landlords receiving public money who were “providing substandard accommodation.”

Some of his constituents on the scheme had reported issues such as no heating, dampness, and windows that did not open in their accommodation, Mr O’Brien said.

Mr McCarthy said the department were “not comfortable” that there was no database tracking Hap inspections, and they hoped to have one in place by the middle of the year.