State may face €100m legal bill for planning tribunal

It should be remembered however that a far larger sum than €100 million has been recovered by the State in terms of unpaid tax revenue.

A decision by the planning tribunal to award legal costs to most witnesses has left the State with a bill running into ten of millions of euro.

The chairman of the tribunal, Judge Alan Mahon, said yesterday he would award costs “save in exceptional circumstances” to witnesses who had co-operated with the inquiry and against whom no adverse finding had been made.

His decision paves the way for most of the 170-plus witnesses who appeared before the tribunal between 1998 and 2002 to have their costs paid by the State.

Informed estimates say the bill for their legal costs could approach €100 million, on top of the running costs of over €30 million for the tribunal itself. This amount far exceeds the €34.5 million paid to the Revenue Commissioners in connection with tribunal-related inquiries up to 2002.

'Unusual' to see witness in canteen at Garda station

Latest from the Tribunal:

A witness for the prosecution in a case against the McBreartys under the licensing laws went back to the Garda station canteen in Letterkenny with senior officers, a Garda sergeant said yesterday.

Garda Sgt Sarah Hargadon said Bernard Conlon came back to the canteen and it was unusual for a civilian to be there.

One of the allegations being looked into by the tribunal is one made by Mr Conlon that he was asked by Det Sgt John White if he was willing to be caught on the premises of a night-club owned by the McBreartys in Raphoe after hours and become a State witness against Frank McBrearty snr.

Minister defends OPW over spending accusations

Yet more juicy stuff from the Public Accounts Committee.

The report says that over €19 million has been spent acquiring accommodation for asylum seekers which was never used. It also says it is likely that a considerable amount of this investment will be lost when the properties were sold.

The report also says that the cost of renovating a property for the Probation and Welfare Service ran to 10 times the original estimate of €150,000.

It also criticises a lease arrangement, originally entered into by Cork County Council , for the provision of temporary premises for Cork courthouse.

The report also reveals that the provision of overtime cover for prison officers on sick leave cost €8.6 million in 2002.

The Irish Times report continues:

The vice-chairman of the committee, John McGuinness (FF), said there had been a number of “ridiculous decisions” taken by the OPW in relation to property projects. He said that he hoped that the same would not happen in the roll-out of the Government’s decentralisation programme.

Mr McGuinness said he believed that if the OPW was a private company that it would be closed down as it could not go on with such losses. He said if Mr Parlon did not believe there were problems he should “take his head out of the sand”.

However, Sean Ardagh (FF)said that he would not accept that there was incompetence within the OPW.

Mr Parlon told The Irish Times yesterday the committee’s report was dated and unfair to the OPW.

He said the OPW had been involved in the provision of accommodation for asylum seekers in 120 locations around the country and the committee had highlighted five centres which were held up due to local legal challenges.

Mr Parlon said the OPW had generated €100 million last year from sales of State property. He said that if OPW was a private company he would be in line for a bonus payment. Mr Parlon described Mr McGuinness as “an opposition spokesman within the Government”. He said that Mr McGuinness was a constant critic and that he did not know what axe he had to grind.

Law will make sacking of gardaí easier

Given that Gardai can’t really be sacked – no matter how corrupt or criminal they are found to be, this on the surface seems like good news. But I seriously doubt it will ever actually be used, afterall the acts carried out in Donegal by Gardai don’t get much more serious – and no one has been sacked.

The significant new powers, described as “revolutionary” by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, are likely to provoke fury among the Garda Representative Association and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors.

Once the powers are implemented, the commissioner will be able to bypass long-running disciplinary appeals rules and sack gardaa­ if their presence in the force “undermines public confidence”. Five gardaa­ sharply criticised by the Morris tribunal have been transferred to the Garda headquarters in Dublin from Donegal, but they have yet to face disciplinary proceedings.

Taxpayer facing 'some loss' over OPW deals – Parlon

I guess that would depend how you define ‘some’.

In Cork alone the renovation of the courthouse on Washington Street went over budget by €23 million. Yes over budget by €23 million. So one has to ask, was it a bad estimate in the first place or were the cost overruns the fault of the contracted builder? Indeed is there any comeback at all? Do the OPW just carry on as before or are the people responsible held accountable?

Parlon’s thoughts are:

Responding to criticism about Cork courthouse, Mr Parlon said “If the PAC or anyone else thinks that job could have been done for €3.8 million they have to be absolutely joking.”

He said the project had been estimated at €3.8 million a number of years ago but because it had dragged on the cost had risen to €26 million. “We will be much more careful about initial estimates for jobs in the future.”

Mr Parlon added that although he was looking forward to reading the report and taking its recommendations on board, he was annoyed “certain bits are being picked out for attention”

Money quote:

He was responding to criticisms contained in a report to be published today by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) this afternoon which says more than €19 million has been wasted and €23 million overspent at OPW.

The report says the OPW spent €19 million on five properties to house asylum seekers that were never used…

Mahon Tribunal awards 10 full cost

James Gogarty has been awarded full costs by the Mahon/Planning Tribunal, as well as others:

Mr Gogarty had been seeking €3.5m in costs. Elsewhere, Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern was awarded costs in relation to his evidence in May 1999 about efforts he made to establish to truth of Mr Gogarty’s claims. Mr Ahern had been seeking €269,000.

Others awarded costs today include financier Dermot Desmond, RTE and the Independent Radio and Television Commission.

Awarding full costs to all parties today, tribunal chairman Alan Mahon said the authority for deciding on the level of pay-outs to be made rested with the taxing master of the High Court.

General Electric denies TD's claim

GE have responded to claims made by Joe Higgins in relation to alleged corrupt practices:

General Electric said it strenuously denied having any involvement in any deal in relation to property in the IDA’s Clonshaugh industrial estate.

It said the General Electric company referred to by Mr Higgins had been sold by GE in December 2003.

“GE holds no interest in the property to which he referred.

“This is a totally unfounded and damaging allegation made under the privilege of the Dail. GE calls on Deputy Higgins to withdraw it immediately and to correct the records of the House,” the statement said.

Garda body tells Donegal officers to give 'honest' evidence

Last night on the Week in Politics the Garda Representative Association General Secretary, PJ Stone said that the association had been wrong in the past to advise Donegal members not to account for their actions. He is saying now that:

Those who are going out to Mr Justice Morris to give evidence, we are saying to them through our solicitor, give an accurate and full and honest account of the issue relating to your duties in Donegal

Isn’t it mad that we live in a country where the investigating body that investigates Gardai, is essentially run by the Gardai, and that it cannot compel any Garda to give evidence? I am looking forward to seeing the full text of McDowells new Garda Bill.

The Irish Examiner also reports on the story.

Barron death probe a cock-up, says garda chief

Besides the core of this story, McDowell said something very curious in the Dail recently.

But Mr McDowell said a doctrine existed at the time that it was for ‘senior gardaa­ in consultation with the DPP to decideâ€? what he and the then Justice Minister, John O’Donoghue, could see in respect of the Donegal investigations.

Mr McDowell said this doctrine was based on the ‘profoundly legally mistakenâ€? belief that the Garda Sa­ochana was ‘in privityâ€? with the DPP – meaning they kept between themselves matters of such importance.

The Gardai in privity with the DPP? What? How long has this been going on?

When the DPP was established in 1974 by Professor John Kelly it was said that was on of its primary aims was:

…to ensure, as will be generally agreed to be desirable, that our system for the prosecution of offences should not only be impartial but should be seen to be so, and that it should not only be free from outside influence but should be manifestly so.

In 1999 the then Minister for Justice, O’Donoghue said:

I have respected and will continue to respect the separate role of the Garda Sa­ochana in the investigation of crime and of the DPP in prosecuting crime.

But all this time they were working together? Is this only news to me?

The full, and indeed fascinating debate from Friday’s session (the session that is not broadcast on Oireachtas Report) can be read here, with a lengthy explanation from McDowell. The full quote reads:

Unfortunately, it was the case at the time, doubtless in good faith, that there was a doctrine that the Garda Sa­ochana was in privity with the Director of Public Prosecutions and that it was open to senior gardaa­ in consultation with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to decide what the then Minister, Deputy O’Donoghue and myself could see in respect of the investigations being carried out in Donegal.

As I pointed out later, that view was profoundly legally mistaken.

The debate continues with some clarifications and background, and harsh exchanges with Brendan Howlin who said that

There are people who have suffered, who continued to suffer and who still feel we are exposing the truth like an onion, layer by layer. They feel there is now a rush to say there is an awfulness ‘out thereâ€? and we will close that chapter and move on. That will not wash now. It will not wash to have partial solutions railroaded through this House next week. This House watched with horror miscarriages of justice elsewhere in the world. We have our own scandal here and now, our Birmingham Six and Guilford Four and much more. Few issues matter more to the well-being of our citizens than good policing. For once, let this House be strong enough to do all that is required.