The acting clerk of the Dáil wrote to the inquiry yesterday to warn the move carries severe legal risks for the State and individual members and must be avoided at all costs.
Several sources said the inquiry could be scrapped entirely by the middle of next week due to the scale of ongoing problems.
The Irish Examiner understands that, during the inquiry’s four-hour emergency meeting on Wednesday, committee members were given two options on how to progress the crisis-hit investigation.
The first involved cancelling the vital legal review of the latest draft — which will today undergo yet another significant reworking due to ongoing inaccuracy claims — to ensure the document could still be published by January 20.
The second option involved extending the deadline to January 27, a move that has implications for an early general election and leaves the inquiry with a mere 24-hour safety buffer before January 28 — the last date it can publish.
While the second option was ultimately taken after a lengthy discussion on what to do, this was only after a number of members raised serious concerns about the potential dangers of skipping legal stages.
After being informed of the issue, the acting clerk of the Dáil, Peter Finnegan, wrote to the inquiry yesterday warning it not to skip anything, regardless of deadline pressures.
Mr Finnegan said he cannot overstate the importance of ensuring the multi-million euro investigation’s report is properly examined by legal experts before being published, and warned that individuals named in the report can take legal action if they believe they have been defamed.
Such a move, he stressed, carries significant legal risk for the state, and may result in individual inquiry members forced to defend the court cases themselves.
Mr Finnegan said that while he fully appreciates the strict timelines involved because of the need to publish the report before the Dáil is dissolved, it is essential no legal stage is ignored.
The now scrapped plan — which highlights the level of concern among members that they cannot salvage the report — emerged as senior members conceded the investigation is now “goosed” and will not meet its new January 27 deadline.
While the inquiry team will meet today to discuss more than 100 “substantive” amendments, most members do not believe they have time to save the investigation.
The inquiry report must be given to its senior counsel on Monday, who will then decide by Wednesday on whether anything can be salvaged. However, inquiry members warned last night that while they are doing all they can, “we’re blind now to the reality it can’t be done”.