Siteserv inquiry delayed till after election

The Government’s high-profile investigation into the sale of Siteserv to businessman Denis O’Brien and a string of other controversial deals will not be completed before the election because of a legal brick wall over what it can examine.

Siteserv inquiry delayed till after election

The latest delay in the investigation into billions of euro worth of deals by IBRC was revealed by the judge overseeing the inquiry at the weekend, forcing the Coalition to scramble to draw up emergency legislation amid claims it deliberately created the legal gap.

In a letter to Taoiseach Enda Kenny on Friday, presiding judge Brian Cregan said the commission of investigation set up to examine the deals “is not in a position to proceed with its investigation” because it has not been given the adequate powers to write a report of any substance.

The investigation was set up five months ago after public outrage, political pressure and a short-lived constitutional crisis over what could be reported in the Dáil due to allegations made about businessman Denis O’Brien and alleged preferential treatment by IBRC.

It had been intended to complete its work within seven weeks after examining 37 company sales including the Siteserv deal linked to Irish Water involving write-downs of €10m or more by IBRC between January 21 2009 and Feb 7 2013; any preferential interest rate terms costing the taxpayer €4m or more; and “unusual” share trading before companies were sold.

When the inquiry was launched, Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Taoiseach Enda Kenny insisted it would be published before the election.

Mr Cregan has said he has not been given adequate powers to properly examine the write-offs, obtain confidential documents from KPMG — IBRC’s special liquidators — outlining why decisions were taken, and share price activity issues.

The Department of the Taoiseach yesterday confirmed that, on foot of the leaked letter from Mr Cregan, Government is considering enacting emergency legislation to address the legal powers shortfall.

It said Taoiseach Enda Kenny met with attorney general Maire Whelan last Friday to examine “the legal options now available” with emergency legislation likely to be passed this week. However, it crucially added Mr Cregan has sought “an extension of time for the completion of the work” which means it is almost certain the report will not be published before the election.

Mr Kenny and Tánaiste Joan Burton’s advisors said they were not aware of previous concerns raised by Mr Cregan about the powers he has available.

However, opposition parties last night lashed out at the latest delay.

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy, whose repeated Dáil questions and concerns over the independence of an earlier now scrapped KPMG review of a number of IBRC deals, said “there is a real possibility of it [the inquiry] collapsing” and that “people will not be taken for fools on this”.

The TD said she and others have been “frustrated at every turn” in relation to the deals, claiming “the Taoiseach doesn’t want it [answers] before the election”.

Fianna Fáil finance spokesperson Michael McGrath said the inquiry now seems to be “on the road to nowhere” and questioned what legal advice Government was given before launching the investigation, while Sinn Féin TD Peadar Toibin said “we now have an inquiry that cannot inquire”.

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