Tribunals continue to cost State millions


Fifteen years after they were established and hundreds of thousands of pages of evidence later, the Mahon and Moriarty tribunals are continuing to cost the State tens of millions in legal fees.

To date the Mahon inquiry into planning corruption has cost at least €110 million, including the third-party claims and the fees paid to tribunal lawyers.

Tribunal chairman Justice Alan Mahon has told the Government the final cost may be about €247 million.

The bulk of the remaining costs are likely to be taken up with settlements on third-party legal feels.

A total of almost €10 million has been paid out so far to legal teams representing parties involved in the earlier stages of the tribunal’s work, when it investigated a number of corrupt payments made to former minister Ray Burke.

Legal costs for the later stages of the tribunal dealing with the allegations of developer Tom Gilmartin and lobbyist Frank Dunlop have yet to be determined but are expected to run into hundreds of millions of euro.

The legal team representing whistleblower James Gogarty, who first revealed a corrupt payoff to Burke, topped the list with costs of more than €3.5 million.

RTÉ settled the largest corporate claim, at just more than €1 million. The State broadcaster gave evidence surrounding the tribunal’s investigation into a £35,000 contribution made by Century Radio co-founder Oliver Barry to Ray Burke before the 1989 general election.

Fianna Fáil costs

Fianna Fáil has been paid more than €480,000 in legal costs relating to the planning inquiry. This is despite the fact that 21 of its members were criticised in the final report of the Mahon tribunal.

Many of these legal bills have been significantly discounted following a lengthy process for the processing of third-party costs.

The Chief State Solicitor’s Office (CSSO) has engaged Fitzpatrick Legal Costs Accountants to negotiate recent bills at a cost of €200 per hour.

The CSSO said that while it has junior staff engaged in legal accounting, they are unable to adjudicate directly on third-party costs because of “pressure of other work”, internal documents show.

The Mahon tribunal’s internal legal team has also come at a high price, clocking up costs of almost €50 million.

The biggest earners between 1997 and 2012 include Patricia Dillon SC (€5.56 million), Patrick Quinn SC (€5.3 million), Desmond O’Neill SC (€5.2 million), Eunice O’Raw (€4.2 million) and John Gallagher SC (€3.2 million).

Moriarty tribunal costs

The Moriarty tribunal has accumulated costs of about €35 million so far.

Third-party costs are likely to see the overall bill for the tribunal swell significantly to at least €100 million.

To date, just €500,000 has been paid in third-party legal bills.

However, the legal bills for businessman Denis O’Brien and former Fine Gael minister Michael Lowry have yet to be officially processed.

Their combined claims are expected to be in the region of €25 million.

Most of the tribunal’s costs to date have gone on lawyers working for it. Jerry Healy SC has received the highest sum so far (€9.6 million), followed by John Coughlan SC (€9.3 million) and Jacqueline O’Brien SC (€6.9 million).

The combined final bill for both tribunals is difficult to predict with any certainty. What is more certain is that it will take several more years, and many millions more in legal feels, before it is finally settled.