Wednesday, March 28, 2007

INSIDE POLITICS - TRIBUNALITIS

The Government's abject climb-down over Tribunal fees is a textbook illustration of political 'optics' and hubris.

In 2004, then Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy announced that he was going to tackle the spiralling costs of Tribunals. There are lawyers working in the two main Tribunals who are getting two and a half grand a day, a couple of hundred days a year, and have been getting those Biblical sums for a full decade now.

Well, McCreevy was going to take them on, wasn't he? He announced a new fee structure that would apply to new Tribunals and to the running ones. He consulted with the chairmen of the Tribunals and came back with a deal.

We were all told that fees for Moriarty Tribunal lawyers would be reduced from €2,500 a day to €900 a day from January 2006. And for the Mahon Tribunal, that would happen in March 2007.

Of course, there was never any intention to reduce the fees. There was a bit of weaving and ducking, and the whole exercise was designed by the Government to hoodwink the public.

It was only when Tribunals got bogged down in delays and legal challenges, that we found out how badly hoodwinked we all had been.

First the Moriarty Tribunal reached and passed the fee-lowering deadline. And what did the Government do? Crumble of course in the face of the threat that the lawyers might walk out.

But as the deadline for Mahon approached, the taxpayer was given some hope when - out of the blue - Tanaiste Michael McDowell decided that enough was enough. He launched an incredible attack on the costs of the Mahon Tribunal, warning darkly that its overall bill could be as high as E1 billion. At last, we thought, we have found a people's champion. McDowell is going to stand up on our behalf.

Yesterday's news that the Government will allow senior counsel to be paid E2,500 a day showed up the charade that has been going on.

The Government spokesperson said that negotiations between Environment Minister Dick Roch and planning tribunal chairman Alan Mahon would continue but in the meantime the higher rate of fees would apply.

Translated into English, that meant that the Government has caved in and capitulated completely and that much-trumpeted 2004 agreement of McCreevy's wasn't worth the paper it was written on.

And McDowell's brave stance? A straw man, if ever there was one.

2 comments:

FG abú said...

Shows how spineless they are. Roll on the election.

Fibber said...

You can't be serious about Trevor Sergeant. He's a joke! Saw his speech on TV, all over the place. Best politico will b 1 who winz election, Bertie hands down.