Tuesday, 28 February 2006
Ceisteanna — Questions.
Tribunals of Inquiry.
Question 6: To ask the Taoiseach the cost which accrued to his Department during 2005 in respect of the Moriarty tribunal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39776/05]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 to 9, inclusive, together.
The total costs incurred by my Department in respect of the Moriarty tribunal from 1997 to 31 January 2006 is €22,587,982. This includes fees paid to counsel for the tribunal and administration costs incurred since its establishment. The total payment made to the legal team was €17,134,415 up to 31 January 2006. The total cost incurred by my Department in respect of this tribunal during 2005 was €3,437,023. The total cost for 2006 to 31 January is €507,710.
This tribunal has dragged on for over eight years at a cost of €22 million. It is absurd that having set up the Moriarty tribunal for a particular purpose this House has never had an opportunity to debate even an interim report from the tribunal nor has it any concept of when it may conclude its deliberations. I understand the date originally envisaged for the application of new fees was 11 January 2006. There were to be reduced fees for legal personnel involved and that was calculated on the basis that the tribunal's programme of work as it stood in mid-2004 would be concluded in or around that date. The tribunal then discussed the matter with the Government and the date was extended to 13 June 2006, an extra five and a half months.
What is the estimated closure date of the Moriarty tribunal? Does the Taoiseach have a figure for the estimated cost of the extension in respect of the higher legal fees that apply until the new ones kick in? Looking back, in 1997 the cost was €553,000. This rose to €1.6 million in 1998, €2.1 million in 1999, €2.17 million in 2000, €2.24 million in 2001, €2.79 million in 2002, €3.4 million in 2003, €3.6 million in 2004 and €2.7 million up to the end of September 2005. The public is weary of this tribunal and others. While everyone wants to seek the truth, in this case, it has dragged on for eight years with no finding whatsoever brought to bear. Will the Taoiseach indicate when it is expected to conclude so that at least one of these tribunals would present its deliberations and the House can have a debate on its findings, whatever they might be?
As I understand it, the Moriarty tribunal was due to end its public hearings and the report was to be written and delivered in or around the end of the year. I think that is what I told the House on a previous occasion. I do not have any information other than that. As Deputy Kenny has correctly said, the Moriarty tribunal was given an extension at the higher fee rates up to 30 June next. I do not know if it will finish its public hearings in that period. The previous Minister for Finance had agreed a period, in consultation with the Attorney General and the chairman, after which the new fees were to become applicable. To the best of my knowledge, and I do not have anything telling me otherwise, that remains the position.
Does the Taoiseach recall that 11 January was the original date by which the new, lower fees were to have kicked in? We have already had an exchange here with regard to the extension of the higher rate until the end of June. There is obviously an ongoing cost to the Taoiseach's Department relating to the extension, not only of the tribunal sittings but also of the higher fees for the period until the end of June. If the Taoiseach does not have the information to hand to answer the questions before him, will he revert to the Deputies later and advise them of same?
There must be some indication as to when the business of the Moriarty tribunal will conclude. Will the Taoiseach be more specific when speaking of a report expected by the end of the year? Will he be more specific about the conclusion of the public hearings and when it is expected that the report will be presented?
With regard to other tribunals that may present in the future, what methodology will be employed in the determination of costs in those cases?
In July 2004 the Government decided to apply a new scale of legal fees payable in respect of any new tribunals and inquiries established on or after 1 September 2004. The effect of the scale was to reduce substantially the costs of legal representation at new tribunals and inquiries. In September of 2004, the Government decided that the new scale would also be applied to existing tribunals and inquiries as and from certain dates which were specified in respect of each tribunal and inquiry. The dates were based in each case on the expected date of conclusion of the work of each tribunal of inquiry and were agreed between the Attorney General and each of the relevant tribunals.
At the time of the two Government decisions, there was no statutory power to reduce the fees payable to lawyers in the existing tribunals and inquiries. It was envisaged that a short Act to amend the tribunals legislation would be enacted which would confer a specific power to limit the fees payable to existing tribunals and inquiries. A Bill to this end was drafted by the Office of the Attorney General prior to the publication of the Law Reform Commission report on tribunals of inquiry. It was decided to await publication of the commission's recommendations before any legislative proposal would be published. After the publication of the commission's report the earlier draft Bill was subsumed into a much larger and more comprehensive Bill to consolidate and reform all the tribunals legislation. This larger Bill will be published within the next few weeks. Therefore, there is no statutory power to reduce the fees payable to the lawyers in the various tribunals and inquiries and there will not be any such statutory power until the Tribunals of Inquiry Bill 2005 is enacted by the Houses.
The original date envisaged for the application of fees to the Moriarty tribunal was 11 January 2006. This was calculated on the basis that the tribunal's programme of work as it stood at mid-2004 would be concluded on or about that date. Due to unforeseen circumstances that have since arisen, the extensive nature of its terms of reference and ongoing inquiries and litigation by parties involved in the tribunal, the tribunal has requested that it be given an additional amount of time to complete its work. That matter was discussed with the tribunal and, given the relevant imminence of the conclusion of the tribunal's work, it is believed it is was reasonable to facilitate the continuance of work until the end of June. This represents an extension of five and a half months from the previous expected completion date. It must be borne in mind that the tribunal has been in operation for eight years and is nearing completion.
It is expected that the new tribunals legislation will be enacted before this summer. Therefore, there should be no obstacle to reducing fees payable to lawyers appearing before the Moriarty tribunal after that date in the event that the tribunal has not completed its work by then.
Deputy Ó Caoláin's last question was about the procedure for the future. This will come under the Tribunals of Inquiry Bill which is entirely different legislation. The Bill provides that much of the work will be done in private and the entire system of dealing with the tribunal will be very different from that currently in operation. It will be built around the Commissions of Investigation Act. The two forms of investigation are different models of investigation. Each will have a particular purpose depending on the wishes of the Oireachtas. The main distinction between a commission of investigation and a tribunal is that the commission will conduct its investigation in private. The other significant feature is that the witnesses will make their application for fees at the end of the investigation.
The legislation underpinning commissions of investigation is designed to provide a cost effective and speedy response where situations arise and require detailed and focused investigation. It gives the State and the Oireachtas a much more flexible investigation mechanism which focuses on taking evidence in private and may ultimately lead to the establishment of a tribunal of inquiry. It is believed it will be much quicker, speedier, less cumbersome and less costly on the State.
It would not be difficult to be quicker in this case. Is it true that the cost so far is more than €22.5 million? For a tribunal that has sat for eight years and five months, that amounts to just under €3 million per year. Has the Taoiseach a firm conviction that this tribunal will definitely not exceed the new extension date of the end of June 2006? Is that a definite date or another target date for the ending of the tribunal? Given that the perception is that the tribunals are insulating the body politic from even discussing, as we have discovered in the House, many of the details or the ramifications or the evidence, is it not the case that the courts should be let deal with issues of misdemeanours and——
The figure the Deputy mentioned is correct. He will appreciate I can only outline to him the assessment given to me. I am not responsible for the tribunal and can only give the date I am given, but I do not know how firm that date will be.
Deputy Sargent stated the total cost amounts to €22.5 million. Does that include all third party costs to date? Am I to understand from what the Taoiseach is saying that the commitment to reduce the fees from 11 January 2006 has not been enforced but that he still anticipates that the tribunal will finish its work by the end of June? Is he saying that if it continues beyond June, the commitment to reduce the fees will still not be enforced?
The costs to date amount to €22.5 million. The tribunal received an extension, which was deemed reasonable based on work it had to do in addition to that on its existing schedule. A case was made to the relevant Department and the Attorney General in this regard and thus the timeframe was extended to the end of June. If the work is not completed at the end of June, the tribunal legislation must be passed because it gives the State the power to amend the fees schedule. That would have to be done first because we do not have the statutory power.
I understand the tribunal hopes to be finished in public session by summer, after which its report is to be presented. As I said previously, it was expected that the tribunal would complete its work towards the end of the year.
On Deputy Rabbitte's question whether the sum of €22.5 million includes third party costs, he raised that issue previously. To the best of knowledge, when I checked the figure I noted it did not cover any of those costs. The costs are based on the fees to date. I am subject to correction, but I understand the third party decisions have not been made in the case of this tribunal so any costs granted in the case of third parties will be in addition to the figures I have put on the record.