Special Report Number 63: Tribunals of Inquiry Press Release

Dublin Castle 12 February 2009

Press Release: Tribunals of Inquiry

The Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr John Buckley, has today (12 February 2009) published a report arising from an examination of the administration of three Tribunals of Inquiry.

The Mahon and Moriarty tribunals will have lasted over twelve years on completion of their business while the Morris tribunal has extended over seven years.  This is much longer than was anticipated at the time of their inception.

The extended duration has led to increased costs although even at this stage the ultimate cost of the three tribunals examined remains inherently difficult to estimate.  However, assuming the tribunals conclude on the dates currently predicted and based on the pattern of costs experienced by them to date, the likely cost to the State of those three tribunals is estimated to be in the region of ?336 million to ?366 million.  However, a major area of uncertainty pertains to third party costs.  In the case of those costs, there is a risk that, due to the extended timescale of tribunals, their ultimate cost could rise.  If the ratio of third party costs to direct costs experienced in the Beef Processing Tribunal was taken as a guide the ultimate cost could increase by a further ?68 million. 

In order to manage the State?s financial commitments in this area there is a need to make tribunal costs more predictable and transparent.  One way of achieving this would be for tribunals to consider the extent and cost of third party representation allowable much earlier in their proceedings. 

In the conduct of inquiries there appears to be scope to achieve economies by using less expensive paralegal or professional staff instead of lawyers for research and investigation work. Arrangements for the gathering and challenging of evidence could also be improved by making greater use of written procedures, seeking to limit oral hearings and holding concurrent sittings where a tribunal has a number of members and discrete issues can be identified.

Since tribunals cannot impose penalties on individuals, a function reserved to the Courts, their principal benefit is to provide information that can be used to improve public administration.  Extended timeframes limit their effectiveness in this regard.  In the design of future tribunals consideration needs to be given to what would constitute enough relevant and reliable information for this purpose.

Detailed suggestions for more cost-effective structuring of public inquiries are set out in Chapter 3 of the Report.

Notes for Editors

The Comptroller and Auditor General is an independent constitutional officer with responsibility for the audit of public funds.  He reports to Dáil ?reann.

The full text of the report is available on the website of the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (go to www.audgen.gov.ie).

For further information about the report, please contact Mr Fergus Glavey at (01) 6031021 or at fergus_glavey@audgen.irlgov.ie