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Commissions of Investigation

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 12 May 2021

Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Questions (1, 2)

Alan Kelly

Question:

1. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the cost to date of commissions of investigation under the direction of his Department. [23209/21]

View answer

Mick Barry

Question:

2. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach the full cost to date of the IBRC Commission; and the expenditure incurred in respect of legal fees by recipient law firms. [24142/21]

View answer

Oral answers (9 contributions) (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions No. 1 and 2 together.

Under the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004, I am the specified Minister for both the IRBC and the NAMA commissions of investigation. Both commissions are fully independent in their investigations. The IBRC commission of investigation was established by Government order in June 2015, following consultation with Oireachtas parties. The IBRC commission's sole member is Mr. Justice Brian Cregan. It is required to investigate certain transactions, activities and management decisions at the IBRC and in its first module it is investigating the Siteserv transaction which has been identified as a matter of significant public concern in Dáil Éireann.

The IBRC commission's original deadline for reporting was 31 December 2015, but following requests from the IBRC commission and after consultation with the Opposition, its timeframe for reporting has been extended on several occasions. Most recently, in April of this year, I granted a further request from the IBRC commission for an extension of its timeframe for reporting on the Siteserv transaction, until the end of October 2021.

From the time of its establishment in June 2015 to the end of April 2021, the IBRC commission spent approximately €9,867,000, of which approximately €4.9 million was spent on legal fees. This does not include any expenditure on third-party legal costs that have been incurred but not yet paid. It will be a matter for the IBRC commission to determine the validity of any claims for third-party legal costs at the end of its investigation.

In the IBRC commission's seventh interim report in Feburary 2020, it estimated the final cost of the completion of the Siteserv investigation will be from €12 to €14.4 million. This estimate assumed the investigation would be completed by the end of 2020, not the end of October 2021, as is now the case, and excluded costs or delays associated with possible judicial review hearings.

The IBRC commission also acknowledged there was a substantial degree of uncertainty regarding the amount of costs recoverable by parties before the IBRC commission and it assumed the commission's legal costs guidelines are not successfully challenged.

The IBRC commission's ninth interim report does not provide any update on the €12 million to €14.4 million estimate but my Department has told Deputy Kelly on many occasions that the final cost is likely to significantly exceed the commission's estimate and could exceed €30 million.

The NAMA commission was established in June 2017, following consultations by the then Government with Opposition parties to investigate the sale by NAMA of its Northern Ireland portfolio, known as Project Eagle. The commission's sole member is Mr. Justice John D. Cooke. Its original deadline for reporting was 31 June 2018, but following several requests from the commission, its timeframe for reporting has been extended. Most recently, in March 2021, I granted a further request made by the NAMA commission in its tenth interim report for an extension of its timeframe for reporting until the end of September 2021.

From the date of its establishment to the end of April 2021, the NAMA commission spent a total of approximately €3.2 million, excluding any third-party legal costs that have been incurred but not yet paid. It will be a matter for the NAMA commission to determine the validity of any claims for third-party legal costs at the end of its investigation.

This needs much more analysis. The IBRC commission will be six years old in June. It is investigating 38 transactions in which there was a loss of €10 million or more in the former Anglo Irish Bank but has been been working on Siteserv alone for its whole existence. It was reported on thecurrency.news that the commission had completed approximately three quarters of its draft report, or 900 pages, and the full report should be completed by the end of June.

The projected cost when it was set up in 2015 was, amazingly, €4 million. It is laughable. According to estimates by thecurrency.news, it has cost up to €70 million so far. When we add up its costs - there were also 100 witnesses - they amount to just under €80,000 per page. If this is the case, and I accept it is an "if" but I am relaying what has been reported, it will cost more than what was received by the IBRC. That is laughable, and I believe the Taoiseach agrees with me.

The Taoiseach has commented in the past that he has deep concerns about this matter. Those comments are at odds with what he has said publicly both in his response today and in response to parliamentary questions I have asked. Costs of €9.4 million have been incurred to date, according to what he has just said. I know the Government has granted an extension but what is the real estimate? The commission must have a budget for going forward. What does the Government estimate this will end up costing? Is the figure of €30 million accurate or is €70 million more accurate? There is a huge difference between those figures. The Taoiseach expressed serious concerns in January 2019, while in opposition, regarding the costs and delays. He stated:

It is now an issue of concern that an inquiry can drag on for so long and at such expense. The Taoiseach is now estimating that the commission will cost €30 million, which is extraordinary, particularly when compared to inquiries in other countries which do not take the same length of time or incur the same level of costs.

Those are the Taoiseach's words, not mine. It is quite obvious that we need to rethink such commissions and I think the Taoiseach agrees with me. We cannot be setting up such commissions and then have the estimated costs and timeframe go out the window. We could run into this issue again as other matters arise down the road and we face them in Parliament. What is the Taoiseach's view on the timeline and final costs for this investigation? Does he accept that the current costs, as stated, are nowhere near the mark? What are we going to do about future commissions, in order that they can reach decisions and have reasonable costs? The current model is not working.

What is under investigation here is a €119 million issue at Siteserv. By the looks of the figures that have been provided by the Taoiseach, the actual cost of investigating that issue could end up being close to €119 million. The figure of €30 million is certainly well short and the other figure of €70 million that has been mentioned is closer to the mark. The commission spent €4,000 on bringing a banking expert from Thailand and more than €1,500 was spent on tissues. I find it hard to get my head around that. We are investigating the activities of a golden circle and it seems the investigation itself is just serving to contrast the lives of the investigators and the legal people with the ordinary taxpayer, who has been fleeced.

I would like the Taoiseach to comment on the issue of third-party legal costs. I know he is not in a position to say exactly what they will be as that is to be determined at the end of the investigation but it strikes me that the third-party legal costs will not be on the low side. They will not be small; they will be significant. Might we end up with a situation where investigating an issue relating to €119 million ends up costing an amount not a million miles short of that?

There must have been a lot of tears being shed behind the scenes if all those tissues were needed.

There are worrying aspects to of all this, leaving aside the delay. Can the Taoiseach tell us with any certainty whether the work will be completed in October? Aside from the costs, which are shaping up to be astronomical, quite frankly, and the slow pace, this investigation is starting to look and feel very much like a tribunal. The idea of these commissions was to allow for a thorough investigation of matters such as this, which are of huge public concern. We should not disregard the fact that there was an absolute necessity for these matters to be investigated. Yet, here we are. Does the Taoiseach share my concern? We need to keep costs under control. I am curious to hear the Taoiseach's answer regarding third-party costs, which Deputy Barry raised. There is a wider concern here if it proves that we do not have a mechanism that is effective, cost-effective and efficient in getting to the bottom of matters of public concern such as this one.

I agree that we clearly have to find a cost-effective and more efficient way to deal with these important matters of public interest. While we absolutely have to do that, it should not deter us from facilitating necessary investigations into injustices or serious matters of public concern. In the context of the current housing crisis and the debates about that situation, we need to look at the experience of the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, more generally and learn some lessons from it. In the case of George Nkencho, his family deserve an investigation into the circumstances of his shooting. The family of Terence Wheelock, who died in Garda custody in 2005, have been fighting for justice as regards how he died.

The Deputy is straying from the question.

I am simply saying that there are many issues that require proper investigation. The model we need to look at is one of independent public inquiries, rather than these commissions of investigation, which end up as a festival of moneymaking for legal people.

I share many of the concerns the Deputies have articulated. It is a matter for the House to re-engage collectively to work out the best models of investigations. When the commissions of investigation legislation was introduced originally by the then Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, it was with a view to having more efficient and expeditious inquiries to replace the tribunals of inquiry, which were deemed to be going on far too long and were very expensive and costly. The constitutional framework guaranteeing people's rights and liberties, such as the right to their good name and so on, is the overarching framework within which we all have to operate. That is clear. We need to work collectively on this into the future.

I am also of the view that very often, the fact that we have to set up commissions of investigation is a reflection of our existing systems of oversight. We have the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, for example, which is there to hold the Garda accountable, yet we leapfrog those systems immediately in this House when we want an inquiry. Very often, there are regulatory authorities in place right across the board and we need to re-examine them. The existing regulatory authorities are the ones that should be engaging in issues that require examination, oversight and investigation, with a view to not having to have the types of large and comprehensive investigations we have commissioned and sought in this House. We have oversight bodies, such as HIQA in health, and we have to work to make them clearly independent in serving the public interest and dealing with issues long before they become the subject matter of specific investigations commissioned by Dáil Éireann.

As regards third-party costs, we do not quite know what the full cost of this particular commission of investigation is going to be. I have read the ninth interim report of the commission. The draft final report will have to be circulated to all affected parties for their comments and so they can review it and make submissions to the commission. The commission is of the view that that will take two to three months and it considers it will be in a position to submit its final report by 31 October. It has stated that about 75% of its draft report is concluded. It is on target to meet that October deadline. There is a wider discussion to be had by the House on these issues.

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