Labour: Tribunal must not rely on taxpayers

Taxpayers should not be expected to pay countless millions to keep the Mahon Tribunal into planning corruption going for more than a decade, it was claimed tonight.

Taxpayers should not be expected to pay countless millions to keep the Mahon Tribunal into planning corruption going for more than a decade, it was claimed tonight.

Labour Party leader Pat Rabbitte said the announcement that the inquiry was unlikely to be completed for 11 years hastened the need for a review of the workings of all tribunals.

“The taxpayer cannot be expected to continue paying countless tens of millions for more than another decade,” he said.

“All of the other current tribunals should be included in a review as soon as we know the decision about to be made at Dublin Castle on costs.

“The Department of Finance has estimated for the Public Accounts Committee that the €144m paid out to date for legal and other costs may be increased for third party costs by a factor of between four and five.

“In other words costs of between €500m and €600m have already been incurred.

“After a ruling has been made on certain third party costs, the Government should consult with the opposition parties about a review.”

Judge Alan Mahon said if the inquiry’s current terms of reference remain the same its existing workload will take 10 or 11 years to complete.

The forecast in the tribunal’s fourth interim report means the inquiry would have been ongoing for 18 years by the time it completes its work in 2014 or 2015.

Justice Mahon said the length of time remaining could be shortened if the tribunal was given more staff or the amount of investigations it was faced with was reduced.

The tribunal was established by the Oireachtas in October 1997 under the chairmanship of Justice Feargus Flood to investigate the planning history of 726 acres of land in north Co Dublin.

These were the subject of a letter written by the developer, Michael Bailey, to James Gogarty, then of Joseph Murphy Structural Engineering, in June 1989.

The terms of reference of the tribunal were widened in June 1998 following the disclosure of a further payment of IR£30,000 to former Justice Minster Ray Burke in 1989.

The tribunal is empowered to investigate all improper payments made to politicians in connection with the planning process.

Justice Flood resigned from his post as chairman of the inquiry in June 2003 after spreading six years in the job.

He was replaced one month later by Justice Mahon.

The tribunal has heard evidence from many high-profile politicians during its years of public hearings including current Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and former premier Albert Reynolds.

An interim report caused controversy when it described payments received by former minister Ray Burke as “corrupt”.

The report also said the former minister received a corrupt payment through the acquisition of his home at Swords in Dublin.

Disgraced former Fianna Fáil TD Liam Lawlor was jailed a number of times for failing to comply with the tribunal, while former Dublin County manager George Redmond became the first planning official to be jailed in Ireland after he was questioned by the tribunal.

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