Dáil Éireann - Volume 592 - 17 November, 2004

Ceisteanna — Questions. - Tribunals of Inquiry.

  10. Mr. Kenny asked 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. [21448/04]

  11. Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach the entire cost to the State to date for the Moriarty tribunal; the estimate for future costs to the State; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22482/04]

[870]   12. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Taoiseach the total cost to date accruing to his Department arising from the Moriarty tribunal; if he has received an indication regarding the likely date for conclusion of hearings by the tribunal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23382/04]

  13. Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach the total cost to his Department relating to the Moriarty tribunal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24149/04]

  14. Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Taoiseach the total cost to his Department and the State of the Moriarty tribunal to date; the projected future cost; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28844/04]

  The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 to 14, inclusive, together.

The costs met by my Department to end October in respect of the Moriarty tribunal amount to €17,844,522. This includes fees paid to counsel for the tribunal and administration costs incurred to date since the establishment of the tribunal in October 1997. Total payment to the legal team is €13,302,609 to end October 2004.

As regards estimated future liabilities for costs, it is impossible to predict what costs may be awarded and to whom by the sole member of the tribunal. The annual running cost of the tribunal is under €4 million. Future costs will depend on the duration of the tribunal. The tribunal is due to conclude by January 2006.

  Mr. Kenny: I thank the Taoiseach for informing us that the Moriarty tribunal has cost €17.8 million to date. Later, the House will discuss an amendment to the terms of reference of the Tribunal to Inquire into Certain Planning Matters and Payments. This tribunal, as the Taoiseach is well aware, has produced four interim reports, some of which were best-sellers as members of the public wished to know their findings as soon as possible. Why has there been no interim report from the Moriarty tribunal? It has been sitting for some years at the cost of over €17 million, yet people are confused about where it is heading. Legal fees for senior counsel, set at €2,500 per day, are now to be trimmed to €900 per day under new arrangements. Is the Taoiseach happy that the Moriarty tribunal will conclude in the time stated?

  The Taoiseach: Over the summer the former Minister for Finance put in considerable work to bring conclusion dates to all the tribunals and introduce a new regime of fees, which work the Attorney General is continuing. With effect from 1 September last, the cost of all legal representation, including third parties, at newly established tribunals of inquiry, or other forms of inquiry, will be paid by way of a set fee payable for the entirety of the tribunal. The calculation of daily fees will not be based on this fee. This new fee structure will take up from when a new tri[871] bunal is appointed. With the Ferns and the Lourdes hospital inquiries and the Barr, Moriarty, Morris and Mahon tribunals, we have decided to come to realistic fixed dates of completion. This is based on detailed discussions and we can hold them to these dates. Whether the reports can be finished and the new fee structure introduced, I hope we can hold it both to the final report and to the fee structure.

I simply cannot answer the question on interim reports. The costs I gave for the Moriarty tribunal do not include future liabilities, such as costs awarded. Fees are mostly to the tribunal. However, the tribunal is in its eighth year and while I do not want to say that the costs may be high, it is a matter of concern. We have tried to get a firm fix on the Mahon tribunal. This is the first real attempt since the commencement of these inquiries to bring finality to them. It is an attempt to reach an understanding of what is required without undue interference. We want to introduce realistic deadlines to ensure we are not in a never-never position with costs and ongoing work. The date marked in for the completion of the Moriarty tribunal is 11 January 2006.

  Mr. Sargent: In June 2003 the Taoiseach told the House that he expected public hearings to end by December 2003 and a report to be written then.

  The Taoiseach: I was wrong.

  Mr. Sargent: I take it matters have been severely revised in the interim. At the time, the Green Party was also looking for an investigation to include matters concerning Glending, County Wicklow. In the meantime, reports have circulated that a deal has been done for reduced fees for tribunal lawyers. Are additional lawyers proposed for the Moriarty tribunal? Have there been any developments in this regard, considering much of the attention in the recent past has focused on the Mahon tribunal?

  The Taoiseach: The completion date for the Moriarty tribunal is 11 January 2006 and it is September 2006 for the Morris tribunal. There are enough staff on the Mahon tribunal to bring it to its finality by March 2007. However, the final report has to be written. As Deputy Kenny said, the tribunal has published interim reports and will continue to do so. No new staff will be appointed to the Moriarty tribunal. The effective date for the introduction of the new structure to the remaining tribunals and inquiries will be determined by the Government following communication between the Attorney General and the chairpersons of each tribunal of inquiry. We will be working to the dates he has agreed in these discussions.

[872]   Mr. Rabbitte: The former Minister for Finance received many headlines when he threw many shapes on this matter and announced to the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis that he would do the devil and all to reduce tribunal lawyers’ fees. However, no tribunal lawyer’s fees will be affected during the duration of any of the existing tribunals as the new provisions will not be brought into existence until their conclusion. After the beef tribunal, there was an informal understanding in the House that there would be no more tribunals. However, that changed for a variety of reasons. If there were another tribunal into a matter of public interest next year, would the new schedule of fees apply?

  The Taoiseach: Deputy Rabbitte is correct in surmising that the new fee structure will not become effective until the dates of completion. The existing fee structure will exist until these dates are reached. Then it is a matter of consultation between the Attorney General and the chairpersons of the tribunals. However, if a tribunal went beyond these dates, we would argue that the new fee structure must apply. From 1 September 2004, the costs of all legal representation, including third party’s, at newly established tribunals of inquiry, or other forms of inquiry, will be paid by way of a set fee payable for the entirety of the tribunal. The new schedule of fees will become effective as and from September for any new tribunal.

  Mr. J. Higgins: When the Taoiseach says that the legal fees in the Moriarty tribunal have surpassed €13 million, will he acknowledge that his Government made a major error in allowing certain barristers to name any fee, no matter how exorbitant, they wished? Tribunals now make more millionaires than they investigate. Is it not obscene that certain barristers can name €5,000 to €10,000 as a price for a few hours’ work? Does the Taoiseach understand the anger and resentment among taxpayers and ordinary workers in having to fund these demands? Does he understand how the 1,300 Aer Lingus workers, soon to be forced out of their jobs, feel about this squandering of public moneys?

  An Ceann Comhairle: Does the Deputy have a question related to the five questions to the Taoiseach?

  Mr. J. Higgins: Why does the Government not change the regime for charging barristers to a realistic level to match that at which ordinary people must survive? Is the Taoiseach concerned that the changes to the Mahon tribunal may mean that the Fitzwilton payment of €30,000 to Mr. Burke will not be properly investigated?

  An Ceann Comhairle: These questions deal specifically with the Moriarty tribunal. I suggest [873] the Deputy submit a question on the Mahon tribunal.

  The Taoiseach: In reply to Deputy Higgins, yes this is using up significant resources. There is no doubt about that. I do not think any of us believed in 1997 when the House agreed the terms of reference that we would still be here debating these issues as we head into 2005. At that time we took very senior and eminent people from the Bench and the Bar to undertake this work. We made the arrangements at the time and must wait until the tribunal concludes before we can end those arrangements. We have changed some of the arrangements, and that is the reason for this debate. The set fee to be paid to a senior counsel will be based on the annual salary of a High Court judge plus 15% in respect of a pension contribution, with related payments to other legal staff, including barristers and solicitors.

The specific annual remuneration packages have been negotiated on this basis for senior and junior counsel and solicitors. The Minister for Finance set out those figures recently. Having signalled his intention to curb the spiralling costs of tribunals, assuming that the awards of third party legal costs in ongoing tribunals is in line with such awards made in completed tribunals, the legal costs will be met by the taxpayer for all tribunals and inquiries, which could come to a figure of over €440 million by the end of this year.

We must look at the future position. The new measures will drastically reduce the legal costs of new tribunals and inquiries, and those of existing tribunals and inquiries from a future date. It is not possible to quantify the extent of the savings as it will depend on the operative date and ultimate duration in the case of existing tribunals and inquiries, and the legal representation employed by the new tribunals, but the new rates represent less than 40% of the maximum current rates paid to tribunals. While I acknowledge Deputy Joe Higgins’s point, the present position remains, but in the future the position will be very different. This indicates the potential savings that will arise from the new position compared to the present one. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who has legislative responsibility for this area, will introduce the necessary enabling legislation.

  Mr. J. Higgins: The Taoiseach is letting the big barristers off in the same way that he let the big property developers and speculators off.

  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Over €4 million was allocated to the Taoiseach’s Department for the cost of tribunals in 2004. With the anticipated change in lawyers’ fees and the review of the basis for future tribunals, does the Taoiseach anticipate that this sum will decrease significantly in 2005? Has the Taoiseach seriously considered what format he favours for inquiries into matters of public concern in the future, as against the [874] experience of the tribunals, which have been running for several years?

  The Taoiseach: The answer to the first question is “No”, because most of the fees under the new regime will not kick in until 2006. It will be effectively 2007 before fees are reduced. If anything, the costs will spiral for the next few years because the third party claims in the Moriarty tribunal, for example, have not been decided. When that happens it will dramatically escalate the fees for the next three or four years, to judge by some of the other tribunals for which we are still paying because the figures are not forwarded very quickly.

To answer the second question, the new fees negotiated will take effect from the stated end dates and will apply to new tribunals and inquiries. The basis for those will be the new investigative arrangements on which we passed legislation. That will be far more streamlined and effective, involving more voluntary participation but allowing for the right to call witnesses and proceed in a legal way. I hope that system will be more efficient, speedier and cost-effective. That will apply to all new arrangements. We must go through the process for the next few years before the position is changed. Certainly in 2005, 2006, 2007 and probably 2008 the fees will be high.