Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Ceisteanna (1)

Brendan Howlin


1. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the projected costs of the Commission of Investigation into the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, IBRC. [47365/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (7 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Taoiseach)

Following consultations with the Opposition parties by the then Minister for Finance, the IBRC commission of investigation was established in June 2015. The commission is entirely independent in its work and Mr. Justice Brian Cregan is its sole member.

The commission was originally due to issue its final report by the end of December 2015 at an estimated cost of €4 million, excluding any third-party costs.

The commission is required to investigate certain transactions, activities and management decisions at the IBRC. In its first module, it is investigating the Siteserv transaction, which has been identified as a matter of significant public concern in Dáil Éireann.

In the commission's sixth interim report, dated 27 March 2019, Mr. Justice Cregan requested an extension of the deadline for reporting until the end of March 2020. He also responded to several issues I had raised with him in December 2018 following consultation with other Oireachtas parties. These concerned the estimated final cost of the investigation, the timescale for completion of the commission's work and whether it would be possible for the commission to reach interim findings.

On 31 May last, following completion of consultations with Opposition party representatives, I agreed to extend the commission's timeframe for reporting until 31 March 2020. I also arranged for the commission's sixth interim report to be published on my Department's website and laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Other than what has been published in the commission's interim reports, I have no information on the status of its investigation, as the commission is completely independent in its work.

Regarding costs, from the time of its establishment to the end of October this year the commission spent approximately €6.7 million. This does not include third-party legal costs that have been incurred by the commission but not yet paid.

The commission's sixth interim report provides an estimate of the final cost of the completion of the first module of its investigation, which concerned the Siteserv transaction, of between €11 million and €14 million. However, this estimate assumes the investigation is completed in accordance with the timetable set out in the interim report and excludes costs or delays associated with judicial review hearings.

The commission also acknowledges a substantial degree of uncertainty regarding the amount of costs actually recoverable by parties before the commission and assumes the commission's legal costs guidelines are not successfully challenged.

As I have informed Opposition party representatives, my Department continues to be of the view that the final cost is likely to significantly exceed his estimate and could be of the order of €30 million.

I thank the Taoiseach for that reply. We are now well into the fifth year of the commission of investigation into the IBRC and the controversial Siteserv transaction. Despite six interim reports to date, however, the commission has revealed no substantial detail surrounding the controversy. The reply the Taoiseach just read out confirms that this remains the case. To be frank, people are scratching their heads. The affair surrounding former Deputy Dara Murphy has seen somebody who has now gone off to a well-paid job in Europe fail to comply with the basic rules of the Dáil and get away scot-free. Now that the Deputy has left the Dáil, can the Taoiseach tell us whether is he in any way accountable for his actions in the context of fobbing in?

The latest deadline for completion of the work of the commission of investigation has been set as the end of March 2020, as the Taoiseach just confirmed. The overall cost of the commission of investigation will be €30 million. Last March, however, the former chief of the IBRC suggested that costs could reach €100 million. Can the Taoiseach comment on that? We cannot allow the truth to be buried or allow the surging costs to undermine the credibility of the commission. Given the fresh legal actions that are under way, is the Taoiseach willing to further extend the deadline beyond March? If so, under what conditions? Can the Taoiseach provide an updated figure for the projected costs? I heard him refer to €30 million but, as I said, knowledgeable commentary is now suggesting a cost of €100 million. This Government is facing a crisis in the context of its credibility in dealing with significant matters of public interest. We really need an answer from the Taoiseach. The Dara Murphy affair has cast a pall on the Taoiseach's reputation. He probably had nothing to do with it other than facilitating Dara Murphy in going to Europe, which is really strange when the latter's job was to be a Deputy here. What has been revealed this week is causing outrage among the general public.

We have an issue here. The Taoiseach has outlined costs of €6 million to date. The commission, which was set up to investigate various IBRC transactions beginning with that involving Siteserv, has been in place for longer than the IBRC or the interim body it replaced. The individual transaction of greatest public concern happened over a period of months, but it has now been investigated for a period of years. Every single email, text message and document generated within the IBRC and those approaching it could have been examined by now. The Taoiseach adopted a stance of studied indifference when this was raised in June. The fact is that this commission is investigating a matter of major public, not just Opposition, concern. While the Oireachtas has set the terms of the legislation, it is the Taoiseach and the Government which have direct responsibility for communication with the commission on all matters. This was matter was a political scandal before the last election and it appears that we may go through another Dáil without getting basic answers to fundamental questions.

Has the Taoiseach asked the commission when it intends to produce a substantive report on its core work? Has he asked if it is on target to meet the deadlines under the extensions it has asked for, that is, the time it has given itself? When will the public know an answer to the basic question of whether State assets were sold below value? This is separate to the more contentious issue of who was responsible for this if it happened, and the role which lobbying may or may not have played. As a member of the Government, is the Taoiseach proposing to take any measures to secure extra information for the public in the next few months? Deputy Burton has identified potential future costs and no one has any real notion of when this investigation will end. This is deeply unsatisfactory. We need answers to some very basic questions that were asked about the transaction in question.

The cost of this investigation is problematic to say the least. The Taoiseach stated that the spend so far has been approximately €6.6 million. On several occasions, he has cited an estimate of the cost, which I imagine was presented to him by his officials, of up to €30 million. There is an obligation on the Taoiseach to outline what this figure is based on and how it was arrived at. It would be an extraordinary amount of money to spend to continue with this commission of investigation. The Taoiseach has previously brought party leaders or spokespersons together to try to get a consensus on how we should move forward in respect of this issue. What was the quid pro quo when the deadline was extended to next March? In other words, what was the expectation on the part of the commission of investigation which underpinned the extension? I imagine the Taoiseach will have to come back to party leaders some time next year to once again consider what to do next. Can he confirm this?

People will be concerned about the escalating costs and on what the figure of €30 million cited by the Taoiseach is based. I am aware that there are third-party and legal costs which have not yet been paid. Those are part of it, but there is a big difference between the judge's estimate and what the Taoiseach's officials are telling him it might cost. It is important that he clarifies the position in this regard.

Charles Dickens' best book was probably Bleak House. It starts with the tale of a legal case Jarndyce and Jarndyce, which had gone on for generations to the point where nobody knew what the case was about anymore. One thing that is clear in Jarndyce and Jarndyce is that the lawyers make an absolute fortune out of the whole thing, such that the original issue and any moneys that might have arisen from the case would all be hoovered up by the legal profession and the reason for starting the case would fade into the mists of time. This is also the kind of problem in this matter. On the one hand the Siteserv and IBRC issue is something we need truth and clarity on because there is a lot at stake in it. These costs, however, cannot be allowed to escalate to a point where they are, if some of the figures being bandied around are credible, far in excess of the sums of money that were being investigated by the investigation. That would be bizarre and unacceptable to the public. It will be interesting to hear what the Taoiseach has to say on that front.

The Taoiseach has up to five minutes.

I can be shorter than that on this occasion. This is a commission of investigation and I need to be careful what I say about it. I answered a question earlier with regard to former Deputy Dara Murphy. I can confirm, however, that the Standards in Public Office Commission can investigate a former Member in relation to his or her conduct as a Member. The former Deputy, Dara Murphy, has said that he is willing to co-operate fully with any statutory investigation. I believe he should do so and I said this to him last night.

The Cregan commission is a commission of investigation established by the Dáil. It was demanded by the Opposition at the time. There was some reluctance in Government to do it, but the Government acceded to the demands of the Opposition at the time to establish the commission. As it is a commission of investigation that operates independently of Government - it is a little bit like a court or a tribunal in that regard - we cannot interfere in its work. The figure of €30 million is an estimate by my officials. It is based on the costs incurred to date and the costs trajectory of other commissions of investigation. We accept that it is only an estimate.

With regard to the timeframe for reporting, the accountability for the commission of investigation is set out in the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004. The establishment of a commission is by way of a Government order that has been approved in draft by both Houses of the Oireachtas. The order identifies a specified Minister who is responsible for receiving the interim and final reports, for granting any extensions of timeframe, and for other administrative tasks. As the Members are aware, the previous Taoiseach and I consulted Oireachtas representatives at every stage where a decision was required on IBRC. Following a request from the commission in its fourth interim report, which I received on 10 June, I extended the reporting deadline to the end of this year. I have no information to indicate that the deadline will not be met. Based on this, we anticipate another report before the end of this year, and we will see if that happens.