Burke faces ruling on €10.5m legal bill

FORMER minister, Ray Burke will learn today if taxpayers will be forced to pick up the €10.5m legal bill from his long-running involvement with the Planning Tribunal.

The inquiry’s chairman, Judge Alan Mahon, will deliver an important ruling at Dublin Castle this morning on whether the retired politician must pay his own massive legal costs. It is widely believed that the former Dublin North TD will be awarded only a fraction of his own legal bill largely as a result of the adverse findings against him in the tribunal’s landmark report published two years ago.

It deemed that Mr Burke had received a series of corrupt payments totalling over €285,000 during the 1980s as well as being given his former home in Swords, which sold a few years ago for almost €4m, for virtually nothing in suspicious circumstances. The report also ruled that the former Fianna Fáil minister had obstructed and hindered the work of the inquiry on 14 separate counts.

In public hearings on the subject of costs in July, lawyers for Mr Burke argued that he had “bent over backwards” to help the inquiry and as a result he should get “every hop of the ball” on the issue of costs. However, such claims stood in sharp contrast to the findings of the second interim report of former tribunal chairman, Mr Justice Feargus Flood, who deemed that Mr Burke had repeatedly failed to co-operate with the inquiry’s legal team.

Lawyers for the Attorney General and Minister for Finance also voiced a strong opinion that it was ridiculous for people who obstructed the tribunal’s working to claim they had a legitimate expectation of being paid their legal costs.

However, Mr Burke’s legal team have argued that any order against him would break him financially as there is no possibility he could ever meet his legal bills out of his own resources. (He receives a combined, annual, ministerial and TD pension of around €80,000.)

Mr Burke, of Griffith Downs, Drumcondra, reached a €600,000 settlement with the Criminal Assets Bureau earlier this summer, despite being hit with an original demand by CAB officers for €2m. He also pleaded guilty to two tax-related charges in the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court in July. Sentencing on those two offences, which carry a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment and a €127,000 fine, has been adjourned until next December.

Today’s ruling is likely to provide an important indication of how the tribunal will address the issue of costs submitted by more than a dozen parties who are judged to have hindered and obstructed the inquiry.

The tribunal has received legal bills totalling almost €50m from a variety of parties involved in the seven-year investigation into planning corruption.

Judge Mahon will also issue a similar ruling tomorrow on a €2.7m legal bill submitted by developers, Tom Brennan and Joe McGowan. The two builders gave Mr Burke over €200,000 in a series of corrupt payments using hidden offshore bank accounts in the early 1980s as well as his former home in Swords. However, in general, the chairmen of tribunals grant full costs to parties who co-operate fully with inquiries.

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