Tuesday, 24 October 2006
Ceisteanna — Questions
Tribunals of Inquiry.
Question 8: To ask the Taoiseach the costs which have accrued to date to his Department in respect of the Moriarty tribunal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28205/06]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 to 12, inclusive, together.
The total cost incurred by my Department in respect of the Moriarty tribunal from 1997 until 30 September 2006 is €25,232,028. This includes fees paid to counsel for the tribunal and administration costs incurred since its establishment. The total payments made to the legal team were €19,310,119 by 30 September 2006.
The administration costs for the Moriarty tribunal, including counsel fees, are met from the Vote of the Department of the Taoiseach. Issues in this regard which may be raised occasionally by officers of the tribunal are dealt with in the normal course of business by my Department. From time to time, there have been requests by the tribunal for records and files and my Department has submitted these. It will continue to co-operate with the tribunal in making available any records sought. Normally, these requests are received by the Secretary General and assigned by him to the appropriate departmental official. All requests are dealt with on a highly confidential basis, as is required by the tribunal.
I have to hand a reply to a recent parliamentary question which sets out some of the costs associated with tribunals, including €58 million for the ongoing Mahon tribunal, €26.2 million for the ongoing Morris tribunal, €25.2 million for the ongoing Moriarty tribunal and €10 million for the Barr tribunal. What is the position in respect of the ending of the Moriarty tribunal? Has an end date been projected? What scale of fees is being applied? Are the increased fees approved some time ago by the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform being paid?
In the midst of the recent controversy to which the Taoiseach was central, the Tánaiste stated: "some of the people there [in the Dáil] today will have a lot of answering to do in a couple of months' time when the second report of the Moriarty tribunal is published."
It does arise. Question No. 10 inquires whether the Taoiseach or his Department has received any recent communication from the Moriarty tribunal and if he will make a statement on the matter. Let me put my question to the Taoiseach.
I ask the Deputy to first listen to the Chair. I remind Members that the Taoiseach replies to parliamentary questions on public affairs and matters of administration pertaining to his Department. He is not required or responsible to reply in respect of any interaction with a tribunal as an individual, as party leader or in his capacity as a member of a previous Government. In addition, under Standing Order 56, Members should not stray into the business of the tribunal.
I agree with the Ceann Comhairle. I am not going to stray into that area. I am referring to the comments made by the Tánaiste outside the House with regard to the workings and content of the tribunal, that certain people in here will feel the heat when the tribunal's report is published. While I know nothing of this, obviously the deputy leader of the Government does. Has the Taoiseach received any communication from the Moriarty tribunal giving some indication that the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform knows the report's contents, knows when it will be published and knows that persons in this House "will have a lot of answering to do"? The Moriarty tribunal has not yet produced a first or second report. I understand the Taoiseach has a very close, warm and friendly relationship with the Tánaiste. I know he does not read the files from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. However, I know that in the past the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has been prone to removing some pages from departmental files containing certain information.
I will deal with the questions in so far as I can. The end date for the Moriarty tribunal is, for the applicability of proposed new costs structures to the existing tribunals or Moriarty tribunal, end 2007, because that was the date given back at that stage. As I reported to the House previously, there were to be two reports, one in autumn and one in January. That is still my information — I do not have any new information. I have no idea whatsoever and I have not been given any previews of the first report, not to mind the second report; I do not believe anybody else has either, for what it is worth.
On the other question, there were issues of fees for the other tribunals. The Morris tribunal date was the end of October 2007 and the Mahon tribunal was 31 March 2007. The Bill provides for the making of regulations that will apply the new schedule of fees to these tribunals. I believe that covers the Deputy's question.
The Taoiseach has said that lawyers' fees in this particular tribunal total €19 million so far, with a total cost to the State of approximately €25 million. Has anybody in the Department, who is in contact with the tribunal, done any calculation of what is likely to be coming down the tracks in terms of costs? Is anybody making a stab at third-party costs? When the Taoiseach states that the cost is €25 million, it is sometimes misunderstood that that is the total cost. Deputy Kenny made passing reference to the costs of other tribunals and again the figure is taken to refer to total costs. However, I understand it is only the cost to the State to date, the cost of State's counsel etc. Has anybody tried to calculate the possible position?
I revert to my Question No. 10, with which the Taoiseach failed to deal in his opening reply. In his latter reply to Deputy Kenny is he stating that he has received no communication from the Moriarty tribunal about a first or second report? The implication of what the Tánaiste said was that, as a named person, the Taoiseach might well have got sight of a concluded or about to be concluded report and that the Tánaiste caught sight of it. I do not know how the Tánaiste would like to be compared to the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy. They are of similar age, height——
On the first question, to the end of August 2006, the total cost to the Exchequer of completed and sitting tribunals of inquiry and other public inquiries was €263,836,000. Of this, €188,907,000 was in respect of legal costs and €74,929,000 related to other costs. The figure for legal costs includes €75,444,000 in respect of third party legal costs awarded to date. The Deputy is correct in assuming that is only the figure awarded. We do not have an estimation of what could be the total cost.
On the tribunals of inquiry and public inquiries sitting at present, the total cost to the end of August 2006 is €167,169,000, of which €104,323,000 is in respect of legal costs. Of this sum, €11,611,000 relates to third party legal costs. The latter figure serves to answer the Deputy's question. At the end, there would obviously be a substantial claim of third party costs.
On the second question, I have no idea about the substance of the first or second Moriarty reports. Obviously some of the issues that might relate to my Department in the normal way would involve consultation, but they are very limited issues and do not shed light on the substance of the broad issues of the reports. I frankly have absolutely no idea what would be in those reports.
Having regard to the import of the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform going around muttering darkly about the conclusions of a Moriarty report, would it not be even-handed that Mr. Justice Moriarty should require him to appear before him?
Three of the five questions before the Taoiseach on this matter deal with whether he has received communication recently from the Moriarty tribunal. I have not heard him respond to that question. I know he is a very busy man but he must have the opportunity to check his post from time to time. If he could answer the question directly, I would appreciate it, as would Deputy Sargent.
On the costs, the Government has made at least three attempts over the past two and a half years to reduce barristers' fees at the tribunals from the daily rate of €2,500 to €900. It was first mooted by the former Minister for Finance, now European Commissioner, in July 2004 and was abandoned by the Government in September 2004. The Taoiseach raised the matter again in September 2005 and said that if the tribunal had not completed its work by the end of June 2006, the reduced fees would apply, yet the Government, having requested a reduction for the third time, has, as of the start of July, maintained the existing fees for barristers at all the long-standing tribunals and that will remain the position until they complete their work.
Will the Taoiseach explain why the Government, having raised this issue on a number of occasions and sought to reduce the cost, which in the case of the Moriarty tribunal seems to amount to €19 million of a total of €25 million, has not pursued the matter? If the Government had achieved what it said it would achieve in July 2004, how much would have been saved in the two and a half years since then?
I thought I answered the first question on two occasions. We have had no information in the form of drafts or otherwise on the substance or substantial issues of the first or second Moriarty tribunal reports. There would be some limited issues in my Department and we would only have had reference to them. They would have been very minor. They would not have had anything to do with the substantive issues.
A number of years ago, when seven or eight tribunals were ongoing, the Minister for Finance and the Attorney General communicated with the chairs of all the tribunals about end dates, modules and all those issues. The dates which were agreed then were subsequently moved following consultation with the Attorney General and various Ministers with responsibility for certain matters. The end dates I have mentioned were the end of January 2007 for the Moriarty tribunal, the end of October 2007 for the Morris tribunal and the end of March 2007 for the Mahon tribunal. It was proposed that those new dates would apply.
It was also agreed that the set fee to be paid to a senior counsel would be based on the current annual salary of a High Court judge, plus 20% in respect of pension contributions, with related payments to be made to other legal staff, including barristers and solicitors. I will give details of the specific annual remuneration packages in 2005. Senior counsel received €221,708 per annum, or €1,008 per day. Junior counsel received €147,806 per annum, or €672 per day, which is two thirds of the senior counsel rate. Solicitors received €176,000 per annum, or €800 per day, for appearance or €100 per hour for work undertaken other than appearing at tribunals. I am advised that the new measures will drastically reduce the legal costs of new tribunals of inquiry and will reduce the costs of existing tribunals of inquiry from the future dates I have mentioned.
I heard the Taoiseach mention annual remuneration packages. Has he been informed of a timescale for the conclusion of the Moriarty tribunal? Will several remuneration packages be needed before it is concluded? The Taoiseach stated previously that his party was awaiting the outcome of the Moriarty tribunal to find out what happened to some €500,000 that was allegedly donated to the party, but was never passed on. Is that still the case? Has the Taoiseach's party made any attempts to recover that money? Is it still acting on the advice that it cannot do so until the tribunal ends?
I have mentioned the dates. The relevant dates are the end of January 2007 for the Moriarty tribunal, the end of October 2007 for the Morris tribunal and the end of March for the Mahon tribunal. It is obvious that we will have to await the outcome of the tribunals before we can deal with other outstanding issues.