Mahon Tribunal legal bill at €13.4m and rising

THE taxpayer bill for witnesses and their legal costs at the Mahon Tribunal continues to mount – a year and a half after the planning corruption inquiry stopped hearing evidence.

Third-party claims for the tribunal have risen to €13.4 million, with a string of companies, individuals, political parties and politicians demanding their costs.

But the final bill for claims for witnesses and their lawyers at the 13-year-old inquiry is expected to rise to more than €100m for third-party bills when final costs are decided, says the Comptroller & Auditor General.

The latest figures obtained by the Irish Examiner show witnesses have submitted claims for €13,420,689, an increase of over €2m since the tribunal closed its doors to hearings in late 2008.

To date, €9.6m of those third-party claims – mostly legal costs – have been paid out by the inquiry.

While some are for millions of euro to individuals, others were disputed by the tribunal and knocked down to smaller sums. In some cases, savings of 50% were made by fighting claims.

The amounts paid out through the Department of Environment, which oversees the inquiry, are for the period 1997 to 2002.

Tribunal chairman Judge Alan Mahon has said he will rule on the remaining third-party costs for the period 2003-2008 after the publication of the inquiry’s final report.

The biggest claim to date of €3.5m has been awarded to the tribunal’s key witness and whistleblower, James Gogarty, whose evidence the Supreme Court recently raised doubt over.

Just over €1m has been granted to RTÉ in costs, while former finance chief with builders JMSE, Gerard Downes, has been awarded €633,000. His claim was knocked down from €1.1m by the tribunal.

Smaller, newer claims settled over the last year include costs to accountants Deloitte & Touche (€38,468), solicitor Eugene Fanning (€28,624), radio station FM104 (€16,745), architect Frank Finnegan (€27,275) and accountants Grant Thornton (€25,145).

Fianna Fáil PR guru PJ Mara has also been awarded part of his costs, despite having been found not to have cooperated with the tribunal. The former government press secretary and his wife Breda have been granted €295,000 after submitting over €365,000 in cost claims.

A full breakdown of payments to third parties for the first five years of the tribunal shows claims submitted by 42 individuals, as well as 30 corporate groups.

Sums for legal and witness costs have also been paid out to Fine Gael (€215,000), Fianna Fáil (€483,000), Labour (€1,602), as well as several banks, including Anglo Irish Bank (€85,000) and National Irish Bank (€356,000).

Politicians who were awarded their costs include TDs Dermot Ahern (€294,000) and Tommy Broughan (€11,000).

Several other claims with the inquiry amounting to more than €370,000 remain unresolved with legal accountants.

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