Mahon Tribunal judges dispute committee’s claims of ‘incompetence’

A ROW has erupted between the Mahon Tribunal and a leading Oireachtas committee over TDs wrongly implying “incompetence” and “mismanagement” on the part of the inquiry.

Judges with the planning corruption probe have demanded that the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) take steps to clarify alleged errors in a recent damning report on ‘procedural shortcomings’ in the tribunal.

The three judges have warned Oireachtas members about “erroneous” claims in the legal services report, released in January under then-chairman Bernard Allen.

Judges want clarifications issued to broadcast and print media.

Much of the report’s content on procedural shortcomings in the inquiry was wrong, according to a letter sent to PAC from a tribunal solicitor representing Judge Alan Mahon, Judge Gerard Keys and Judge Mary Faherty.

New laws for the three judges when they took over the inquiry in 2002 did not allow them to sit individually and at the same time to hear different modules, the February 2 letter said, contradicting PAC’s report.

“It was never intended at that time by the Oireachtas that the newly constituted tribunal would sit, other than as one division,” it said.

A request to run parallel hearings was made by new chairman Judge Mahon the following year. But it took until 2004 to pass the laws and the inquiry had at that stage begun a series of interlinked modules. It was not possible to split hearings into two or three divisions, it added.

“Also, and most importantly, the sub division of those modules with different members taking different modules was not legally feasible and would have resulted in legal challenges,” PAC was told.

The tribunal has also disputed the report’s claim that two of the three judges should have been “released” when hearings could not be split up.

“That number may reduce only in the event of a death, retirement, or resignation of one of its members, or alternatively if provided for in newly enacted legislation,” the letter stated.

Crucially, the judges expressed concern about damage done to the inquiry’s reputation by the report: “The members of the tribunal are concerned that the erroneous content... of the report is not only misleading, but very clearly implies incompetence and mismanagement on the part of the tribunal, with consequential increased costs of the Exchequer.”

Judges asked PAC to take steps to publicly correct the errors by notifying newspapers and television stations.

TD John McGuinness, who was elected PAC chairman last month, yesterday said an offer had been sent by members of the last committee to include concerns by the judges in an appendix in the report.

“It’s down to the tribunal to come back to us. I will look at it again,” he said.

The Mahon Tribunal confirmed it had received a letter from PAC about the judges’ concerns but refused to comment further.

The tribunal also refused to comment on reports yesterday that the inquiry was “virtually complete” and would only say that its work was “very advanced”.

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