Tuesday, 29 March 2011
Ceisteanna - Questions
Tribunals of Inquiry
Total expenditure by my Department from the establishment of the Moriarty tribunal in 1997 to end-February 2011 was €41.96 million. This figure does not include third party costs for which applications have yet to be received and ruled on by the sole member.
It is great to have some clarity on a question to the Taoiseach about the Moriarty tribunal. If I am correct, €41.96 million has been spent on the tribunal over 14 years. This is a scandal. Recently there was a dispute and much controversy about the cost of the Saville inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday in Derry. The legal team at the Moriarty tribunal was paid over twice the amount paid to the Saville inquiry legal teams. Figures I have been given show two barristers received €8.5 million each. For a working person, such a figure would be in his or her dreams of winning the lottery. Does this not confirm that golden circles are still intact and thriving in Ireland today? Nach scannal mór é seo?
Thug mé an freagra céanna don Teachta an tseachtain seo caite. Bhí sé díreach, cruinn agus fíor. Expenditure by my Department on the tribunal was €41.96 million. I will give the Deputy some other figures to keep him in the know.
The full cost of the tribunal's legal team, from its establishment in 1997 to the end of February 2011, was approximately €33 million. At the concluding stages of its work, the legal team consisted of two senior counsel, three junior counsel, a legal researcher and a solicitor. The two senior counsel who have ceased working with the tribunal were paid a daily rate of €1,955 and €1,564, respectively. The two junior counsel who remain with the tribunal are paid €860.20 a day, while the third more senior junior counsel who has left the tribunal was paid a daily rate of €1,050 a day. The solicitor's daily fee is €782, while the legal researcher who has also left the team was paid €391.39 a day. The three senior counsel earned €9.6 million, €9.3 million and €6.8 million, respectively. The three junior counsel earned €2.4 million, €1.8 million and €241,000, respectively. The solicitor earned €1.8 million, while the legal researcher earned €754,000. All these figures include VAT.
Several years ago an Oireachtas committee carried out investigative work in the DIRT inquiry at a low cost and within a timescale which brought about real results and savings for the Exchequer. Deputy Adams is aware of the Government's intention to hold a referendum on the Abbeylara case decision to allow investigative work to be carried out by specialist or select Dáil committees.
On the question of the clarity of money trails, I am not sure about the OMO boxes but we might have a look.
I recall well a previous occasion when a Minister for Finance tried to reduce the cost of tribunals. When the current Taoiseach was in opposition, that Minister was met with a hue and cry of outrage that he was attempting to curtail the work of the tribunal.
Does the Taoiseach agree the costs are excessive? The Minister for Justice and Law Reform is not the party leader and should stay silent for a while. Accepting that the costs are very high and excessive, does the Taoiseach agree that those who failed to co-operate fully with the tribunal and obstructed the work of the tribunal should waive at least a portion of their costs and the moneys they will attempt to recover from the tribunal? I include the Fine Gael Party in that in respect of the Telenor cheque. An attempt was made to hide that information from the tribunal to prevent it acquiring any knowledge of the donation from Telenor.
Obstructing a tribunal adds to the cost of the tribunal. The parties in that position should waive some of their costs. Their legal advisers were probably paid the same rates outlined by the Taoiseach. They could take a cut as a result of the failure to be upfront with the tribunal from the beginning.
I absolutely disagree with Deputy Martin in his comment that the Fine Gael Party tried to obstruct the Moriarty tribunal. Based on the legal advice to the party in the circumstances, the party took a decision. In my view it was the wrong decision but the decision was taken. When my predecessor as leader of the party, Deputy Michael Noonan, became aware of the situation he transmitted the entire file and everything associated with it to the tribunal for its perusal and examination, in respect of which the tribunal thanked the Fine Gael Party for its forthrightness.
I do not speak for the third parties to which Deputy Martin refers. I cannot comment on the extent of claim that will be made or what the sole member of the tribunal will do but clearly substantial amounts may be claimed and may have to be decided upon by the sole member of the tribunal in due course.
Does the Taoiseach agree that ordinary taxpayers will be outraged that, from the figures provided by the Taoiseach, the tribunal investigating four millionaires created six multimillionaires in the legal profession in the process? Is that not an incredible situation? It raises the serious question that most working people and poor people cannot afford to get justice in this country because they cannot afford the massive level of legal fees demanded. In government, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil always capitulated in front of the apparently massive power of the Law Library and refused to deal with the scandalous level of fees demanded generally for law cases and demanded and fixed for lawyers in the Moriarty tribunal.
The fees for senior counsel were fixed in 1997. The tribunal counsel sought a substantial increase in their fees and this went on until 2001 and 2002. On a number of occasions when I was in opposition, I raised the fact that payments of an increased nature were incorrectly sent out and were not reclaimed. I made the point that someone claiming social welfare who had been overpaid by €100 or €1,000 would be pursued by the Department of Social Protection for the recovery of that money over a number of years. This is an issue I felt very strongly about when I was on that side of the House and I would like to pursue it here. Whether it is possible to do anything about that, when these sums have been signed off on completely, is a matter I must pursue. The cost of legal fees at that level is exorbitant. That is why I genuinely believe that this House and the committees of this House, properly set up and with competent people, would be entitled to and could do a good job in the event that situations such as that might arise in the future at a fraction of the cost of tribunals running over a very long period.