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Only €30m set aside for Mahon Tribunal's €150m legal bills

The Public Accounts Committee hears that third-party legal costs could reach €147m – but only €30m has been kept aside.

The Mahon Tribunal during its sittings in Dublin Castle. The Tribunal is likely to lead to legal costs of €150 million for witnesses, which have not yet been accounted for.
The Mahon Tribunal during its sittings in Dublin Castle. The Tribunal is likely to lead to legal costs of €150 million for witnesses, which have not yet been accounted for.
Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

A GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENT has only allocated €30 million to cover the private legal bills arising from the conclusion of the Mahon Tribunal, which could reach nearly €150 million, TDs have been told this morning.

The Public Accounts Committee, discussing spending in the Department of the Environment, was told that the Department has allocated just €1 million from its own budget this year to the administration of the tribunal, which is likely to issue its final report in the coming weeks.

Marie McLaughlin, the principal officer from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, told members that revised Budget estimates had offered €30 million to cover payments to witnesses whose private legal costs would be paid by the Tribunal.

This is despite estimates from the Chairman of the Tribunal, Justice Alan Mahon, who estimates that the State’s bill for legal costs could hit €147 million, an estimate based on the State’s experiences in previous tribunals.

This is on top of almost €100 million spent by the State on the Tribunal to date, of which €10 million covered third-party legal costs up to 2002.

McLaughlin said the allocation was a “reasonable amount” to set aside for 2012, because there was “some uncertainty as to when the liability will mature, but not the precise scale”.

She added that the Tribunal’s previous rulings on legal costs, incurred by witnesses between 1998 and 2002, were still only being paid now, with one person only receiving their final payment from the State earlier this year.

“It may well be that costs bills will come through for a significant period of time in the future,” she said.

High earners

Geraldine Tallon, the chief civil servant from the Department of the Environment, said her own Department’s budget had not made any provision for third party costs.

She added that the State’s comprehensive review of expenditure had considered the need for allowances to cover the third-party legal bills that the State could be asked to cover in future years.

The State had paid €3.26 million for external counsel to the Tribunal, while three barristers from its internal legal team had received fees of over €5 million.

Patricia Dillon SC was paid €5.59 million, Patrick Quinn SC was paid €5.33 million, and Desmond O’Neill SC was paid €5.27 million.

Tallon later added that the Tribunal kept an administrative system in place to ensure it was not retaining staff for which it had no use. The Tribunal had 46 staff while its hearings were proceeding, but only 21 at the end of last year, she said.

“There are administrative systems and a regulator in place to manage its administration, but in administrative terms – as well as judicial – the Tribunal is operating independently of the Department,” Tallon said.

Read: ‘Irish taxpayer has right to know when Mahon report will be published’ – TD >

Plus: The who’s who of the Mahon Tribunal >

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Gavan Reilly

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