AG’s involvement in INM case is ‘stunning, obvious’ conflict of interest, Dáil hears

Róisín Shortall queries Paul Gallagher’s private legal work after Irish Times report

There is a “stunning, multilayered and obvious” conflict of interest in the State’s most senior legal officer working in a private capacity in a case in which the State is on the other side, the Dáil has been told.

Speaking in the Dáil on Thursday, Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall also questioned how Paul Gallagher "is the Attorney General by day and a mere ordinary barrister by night".

Ms Shortall was commenting during leaders' questions on The Irish Times report that the Attorney General is acting in a private capacity for former directors of Independent News & Media in their dealings with High Court inspectors who are investigating the company's affairs.

“Mr Gallagher simply cannot simply take off his Attorney General hat to leave it at the door and enter the room as a different persona,” she said, describing the situation as “grossly inappropriate” as she questioned who in Cabinet authorised the move.

But Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said: "I'm absolutely certain that the Attorney General will be very careful to avoid any conflict of interest or any perception of a conflict of interest.

“He is a person of the highest integrity and ability and I have full confidence that he will make sure that there was no conflict of interest.”

Mr Varadkar said the Attorney General was finishing a number of cases he had taken prior to his appointment as the Government’s legal adviser and this was not unprecedented. He said former attorneys general “were allowed to finish out cases that they were involved in, prior to their appointment”.

Government approval

Outlining details of the case, Ms Shortall noted that Mr Gallagher had sought and received Government approval to carry on with his outstanding private legal work. “Who exactly authorised this?” she asked. She queried if it was a decision by the Taoiseach or the Cabinet and who provided the legal advice on this.

The Tánaiste said: “I don’t know if there was a formal Cabinet decision on the matter recorded or if there was legal advice. But what I can say is that the party leaders [in Government] and the Cabinet were informed that the Attorney General would be finishing out some cases that he’d taken on before his appointment.”

Mr Varadkar said the party leaders in Cabinet were obviously not aware of “the detail of any particular cases”.

Ms Shortall asked how many other cases there were and “exactly who are his [Mr Gallagher’s] clients”.

Ms Shortall said the issue was “even more bizarre” because in the case in question the inspectors were appointed by the High Court following a request from the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE), the State’s white-collar crime watchdog.

“So we have the Attorney General, the State’s top lawyer, acting for a number of former company directors of one of the biggest media companies in the country, in the case which emanated from an inquiry by the State’s corporate watchdog. You couldn’t make it up.”

‘Responsibility’

She noted: “His [The Attorney General’s] office carries weight, power, authority, responsibility, not to mention obligations that can’t just be shrugged off whenever it’s expedient to do so. And on what planet was it felt that it was appropriate to do so, especially given this case is the most high-profile investigation currently being undertaken by the ODC[E]?”

The Dublin North-West TD said that “the conflict of interest here is just stunning and multilayered. There is the obvious conflict of the Attorney General being involved in the case in which the State is on the other side.”

She added that it was of “huge importance” that “the Attorney General’s Office instructs barristers for State work, which is often quite lucrative”.

Ms Shortall asked the Tánaiste: “Do you accept therefore, that this is grossly inappropriate, that he would be engaged in private work? How would you feel as a barrister to learn your opposing counsel is the AG, whose office can make or break careers? Do you see that there are serious problems with this?”

Mr Varadkar said Ms Shortall asked a number of detailed and reasonable questions. He did not have answers but “I will endeavour to find answers to your questions as soon as I can”.