Deadline for investigation into Siteserv sale extended until end of 2018

Cregan commission request for doubling of legal fees refused as cost could rise to €25m

Catherine Murphy, concerned commission  ‘deviating from the role originally envisaged for it’. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Catherine Murphy, concerned commission ‘deviating from the role originally envisaged for it’. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The Cregan commission investigating a number of controversial transactions by the Irish Banking Resolution Corporation (IBRC) is to be given an extension until the end of next year to complete its work.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said there was “no option other than to grant that extension because if we do not do so the investigation will fall”.

But the request by the commission chairman, Mr Justice Brian Cregan, to double the legal fees for the commission was rejected.

Mr Varadkar said his officials would meet the judge to “discuss other ways in which the work of the commission can be supported” including additional staff.

The Cregan Commission of Inquiry is investigating certain IBRC transactions including the sale of Siteserv to businessman Denis O’Brien’s company, Millington.

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy said that if the increase in fees was agreed, the inquiry would cost in the region of €25 million when the original preliminary estimate was €4 million.

She was concerned that the commission, established in 2015, was now seeking “yet another extension”. She and others had said from the outset that it should not go on for years.

Ms Murphy said the commission was not intended to be a judicial process and she expressed serious concern that it was “deviating from the role originally envisaged for it”.

The Kildare North TD, who had received information about the transactions that led to the establishment of the commission, said the information she passed on to the inquiry “is apparently being reduced in value because I will not identify my sources”.

She said that when whistleblowers contact TDs they sometimes seek assurances about confidentiality “and we, as public representatives, must respect that”.

Ms Murphy also said a submission she made to the commission had been widely distributed despite assurances to her that it would only be distributed “where necessary”.

It was now being distributed to “potentially interested” parties rather than “where necessary”, she said.

She said this was only the first module and other transactions were to be considered, “but the way it is being conducted makes it look as though we are moving into the territory of tribunals of inquiry rather than a commission of investigation”.

In reponse, the Taoiseach said the commission “is not a creature of the Government” and is accountable to the Dáil, not to him. He was not accountable for the actions of a judge appointed to carry out a commission.

Mr Varadkar said the only option to avoid the commission failing was to allow it to continue until the end of next year.

He reminded Ms Murphy that when the issue was discussed with party leaders “the broad consensus was that we should not agree to the request that legal fees be doubled for this commission of inquiry, but that they remain standard across commissions”.