State could face €4m legal bill in case of former Judge Curtin

 

THE COST to the State of impeachment proceedings initiated against former judge Brian Curtin could reach up to €4 million, a Dáil committee was told yesterday.

Kieran Coughlan, secretary general of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, told the public accounts committee that more than €1 million had already been paid “in damages”, a further €1 million was spent on the State’s own legal costs and the judge’s legal team had sought additional fees of almost €2 million for co-operating with an investigation set up by the Dáil.

In 2004, a motion to impeach Judge Curtin was launched in the Dáil, following his acquittal on charges of possession of child pornography, after it emerged a warrant was defective.

The Dáil established a joint committee to hold an inquiry into the matter. Its right to do so was upheld by the Supreme Court after the judge challenged it. Although Judge Curtin lost his case, he was entitled to his costs, as is usual in a constitutional challenge.

When Judge Curtin retired voluntarily a short time before he was due to appear before the committee, the impeachment process was abandoned.

However, his legal team, Co Kerry solicitor Pierse Fitzgibbon,former attorney general John Rogers SC, Paul Burns SC, and barrister Cian Ferriter still sought costs for their co-operation with the inquiry.

Solicitors’ fees of almost €1.2 million were claimed, Mr Rogers sought just over €300,000, Mr Burns sought almost €270,000, and Mr Ferriter sought more than €150,000. Additional general expenses of more than €17,000 included €11,750 for solicitors’ overnight accommodation.

Mr Coughlan said just under €1 million was offered to Judge Curtin’s legal team and a “final cheque” was sent to them in November, but it was never cashed.

Independent TD Shane Ross said the fees sought were “shocking and outrageous”. He congratulated Mr Coughlan on the decision not to pay them.

Other legal expenses incurred by the Oireachtas included €1,085 paid out for damage to the car of former TD Gemma Hussey in 2008, and a further €3,000 for damage to three other cars in 2008 and 2009. A personal injuries case involving Mona Hanafin, the mother of former minister Mary Hanafin, cost more than €52,500 in 2009 and a separate personal injuries claim taken by a former employee cost over €200,000.

Former senator Ivor Callely had not yet sent in his fees in connection with his successful High Court challenge to overturn findings made against him by a Dáil committee, but it was estimated the fees would be “less than €500,000”. Mr Coughlan said the case was being appealed to the Supreme Court.

It was also confirmed to the committee that Independent Senators each received a €23,000 “party leaders’ allowance”, while Independent TDs got €42,000 a year. The committee also heard that of the 96 Oireachtas members who signed up to use the Leinster House gym, only an average of six used it every day. No members made use of a creche, which was being used by staff and nearby public service departments.