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'Guesstimated' cost of Mahon Tribunal dismissed as legal fees mount up

TDs say there is no real way to gauge the final cost of the Tribunal because of the lack of measures in place regarding third party entitlements.

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern outside Mahon in December 2007.
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern outside Mahon in December 2007.
Image: Julien Behal/PA Wire

TDS HAVE CRITICISED the mounting costs of the Mahon Tribunal after an Oireachtas committee heard that the cost of the tribunal could reach up to €250 million.

The Mahon Tribunal is the longest-running tribunal in the history of the state and although its findings are expected to be published soon, no date has been sent for that publication.

Department of the Environment secretary-general Geraldine Tallon told the Public Accounts Committee last week that there were no measures to verify the work covered by third-party legal bills sent to the department.

She said that such invoices are checked by the department but that there was no mechanism to verify the hours spent or work carried out by third parties on the tribunal.

The committee also heard that the department has no provisions in place for the provision of third-party entitlements for Tribunal work.

The committee chair Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness told RTÉ’s This Week that because “there is no system of management in place on behalf of the taxpayer… to monitor any of the contributions made to the tribunal”, there is no way to accurately gauge the final cost of the tribunal.

Last week, the TD said that costs had hit around €96.5 million to the end of 2011, but that third party entitlements had yet to be decided.

McGuinness said today that any numbers being suggested as a final cost are merely ‘guesstimates’ and that the true cost would not be known until the costs had been awarded.

He criticised the Department of the Environment’s “appalling management” of the issue, and said that the state would be paying costs for a number of years because “we don’t know when the invoices will be submitted”.

Fine Gael TD Simon Harris of the PAC said that until Mahon’s report is published, costs are continually being racked up by the tribunal. He said that although the tribunal hasn’t sat publicly since 2008, it has 21 members of staff.

The tribunal has been examining “very serious issues”, he said, but the financial costs are very high: ”People are going to rightly ask, at what cost did we get the truth in this case?”

Harris has also called for the report’s publication date to be announced.

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