Siteserv investigation to cost more than 7 times original estimates, Taoiseach says

There comes a time when you start to wonder if anyone in the Irish Government is capable of estimating the real cost of anything. If these guys told you they could re-roof your house for three thousand euros, you’d probably be wiser just to re-mortgage the house and prepare for a final bill of around twenty grand.

Here’s the Taoiseach in the Dáil on Wednesday:

“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.”

So, we’re four years late, and seven and a half times over budget.

Partly, of course, this is down to the legal profession. There’s nothing quite like a good tribunal of inquiry to get our learned friends down in the four courts excited. And of course, the public, relatively wisely, voted down the last Government’s proposal to do away with the lawyers and have politicians conduct these investigations instead, on the basis, probably, that having tribunals run for years was a much more appealing prospect than the notion that one day you might find yourself being investigated by Ruth Coppinger for crimes against socialist thought.

This is not the first tribunal to drag on for years, of course, as anyone who remembers the Moriarty Tribunal will note. That investigation found that Denis O’Brien had bribed Michael Lowry in order to win a contract. What were the consequences? Well, Denis is being investigated again, in this siteserv inquiry, and the Taoiseach is relying on Mr. Lowry’s vote to prop up the Government.

Whatever comes out of this enquiry, you can just imagine the wrongdoers shaking in their boots, can’t you?

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