The Mahon Tribunal which was appointed by Noel Dempsey, Minister for the Environment & Local Government has so far cost taxpayers over €98 million. But the capacity of this Department to either monitor or approve the costs incurred was limited to oversight of the number employed by the Tribunal, the grading of the staff, including contracted staff; third party legal costs and costs of external counsel which account substantially less than half of the total cost.
The independence of the Tribunal apparently meant no prior sanction of expenditure on routine goods and services. The invoices in respect of these were signed by the Tribunal Registrar as being in order for payment by the Department of the Environment & Local Government. Approval was only sought to incur items of substantial capital expenditure. The Tribunal did not pay the costs in respect of its venue at the Clock Tower Building in Dublin Castle.
The fees of the Tribunal’s legal team were based on agreed daily rates and legal cost accountants examined and reviewed the costs submitted by external counsel, some of which involved a ruling by the Taxing Master, whose role is to provide and independent and impartial assessment. The setting of an initial brief fee of €31,743 and €20,951 for senior and junior counsel respectively and the per diem rate of €1,714 for senior counsel and €1,143 for junior counsel. In 2002 the per diem rate for senior counsel went up from €1,714 to €2,250 (+31%) when the counsel engaged by the tribunals in each case sought a review of the rate.
The Tribunal convened for the first time on 11 December 1997. The first public sitting was on 14 January 1998 and it convened for a total of 916 sessions thereafter. It produced five reports, four interim and one final. The confidential information that came into the possession of the Tribunal in its early stages ultimately extended the scope of its investigation to matters pre-dating 20 June 1985 the commencement date set for inquiry out in the original terms of reference.
The amended Terms of Reference incorporated not only the original amendment sought by the Tribunal but also amendments which specifically required the Tribunal to inquire into the public life of
a Mr. Ray Burke, a former Chairman of Dublin City Council from 1985 to 1987, Fianna Fáil TD for the constituency of Dublin North and a government minister in several departments, including Environment, Justice, Communications, Energy and Industry & Commerce. His successor as Minister for Justice was Pádraig Flynn.
When Burke retired on 7 October 1997 he was Minister for Foreign Affairs in the first government of Bertie Ahern. The Tribunal found that Burke did not purchase his family home in Swords in ‘a normal commercial transaction’ and that the consideration exchanged for the dwelling and lands did not represent the open market value of the property. The Tribunal deemed that the transfer of this property to Burke was a corrupt payment to him.
The Third Interim Report dealt with payments by James Gogarty to George Redmond, a former senior official of Dublin Corporation in 1988/89. Redmond informed the Tribunal that he had received ‘a gift of cash of between £8,000 and £10,000 from developer Michael Bailey a short time prior to Redmond’s retirement on 23June 1989, at the age of 65. It subsequently transpired that Redmond was the recipient of two or three payments from Bailey totalling between £16,000 and £20,000 in 1988/89 when he was ‘advising' Bailey on ‘property matters’. Redmond was unable or unwilling to characterise the nature of his ‘advice’ but the Tribunal concluded that he devised a strategy which resulted in service charges and levies payable to Dublin Corporation in respect of a development in Swords, Co Dublin being fixed at their 1983 level for two years after the expiry of the associated planning permission in June 1988 and that Redmond demanded 10% of the savings arising. The Tribunal was also satisfied that if Redmond’s services had not been used the service charge and levies would have been fixed at a level of at least 100% more than those fixed in 1983. The Tribunal was also satisfied that Redmond hindered and obstructed the Tribunal.
In circumstances where a person increased the duration of hearings by knowingly or recklessly providing false or misleading information or otherwise failing to provide appropriate cooperation, the existing statutory provision allowing costs to be awarded against that party for the benefit of the Exchequer
The Tribunal proceeded to examine transactions relating to lands at Lucan, Bray, Arlington/Quarryvale, Carrickmines Co. Dublin. There were ongoing investigations of allegation of planning corruption with regard to the planning processes in a number of separate and distinct transactions.
The Final Report was presented on 22 march 2012 and the preparation of it was described as having been an enormous and complex task. The 14 years duration of the Inquiry was significantly greater than anticipated in 1997. The wider terms of reference required extensive and prolonged investigation that involved the provision of evidence by hundreds of witnesses, some of whom did not give truthful evidence. The investigation of corruption is by its nature forensic and painstaking requiring fair procedures always.
The Tribunal Costs from 1997 to March 2012 were:
|Administrative Costs, including non-legal staff||30,271,702|
|Tribunal’s legal team||50,123,718|
|Court costs – external counsel||3,420,498|
|Court costs – other||4,110,997|
|Third party costs||10,141,175|
The third party legal costs involved settlements with 40 individuals and 31 corporate entities. The largest individual settlement was with James Gogarty for €3,567.779. Gogarty died in September 2005 and it was he who blew the whistle on corrupt payments to Ray Burke. Gogarty was once a Garda who became an engineer and was employed by Joseph Murphy Structural Engineers. He claimed that a payment to Burke of £30,000 was intended to corruptly influence Burke to support the rezoning of 726 acres of land at Finglas, Ballymun, Balgriffeen, Portmarnock and Donabate Co Dublin.
One of the many of his more memorable contributions to the Tribunal concerned the car journey to Burke’s house when Gogarty had the £30,000 in an envelope in his pocket. There had been little conversation throghout and journey and Gogarty enquired of Bailey “would we get a receipt for the money?” to which Bailey replied “will we, fuck!”
Gogarty had claimed reimbursement of costs of €4.539.545 but was paid €971,766 less than this.
The payment of €1,001,853 to RTE was the largest of the corporate claims paid.
Third party costs are awarded and the amount determined in retrospect. While the process in other countries varies,
application for legal fees to be met from the public purse is required prior to participation in the public inquiry process in Australia, Canada and the UK.
The last public session of the Mahon Tribunal was on 29 October 2008. Some €14 million of the total costs to date relate to the period from the end of 2008 to March 2012. That includes €5.6 million paid to the Tribunal’s internal legal team.
Each of the three judges who comprised the Mahon Tribunal are paid a salary of €156,248 (reduced from €177,554 since 1 Jan 2012) plus and untaxed allowance of €9,058. The total sum paid to the three of them from 24 October 2002 to 15 march 2012 was €4,598,091. The Tribunal commenced as a Sole Member Tribunal but three judges were appointed to it on 24 October 2002.
This Tribunal has been the longest running in the history of Ireland.