Monday, May 04, 2009

Just how clever are our very highly paid Legal eagles?

Just how bright are our very highly paid legal eagles – esp. the Senior Counsel grade, the “Masters of the Universe” we’ve been led to believe?

The reason I ask is that today’s Indo reports another embarrassing Govt U-Turn on a measure recently proposed by our Minister for Finance – Brian Lenihan, Senior Counsel.

It seems that, “on mature reflection”, Minister Lenihan’s stated intention to tax or means- test child benefit is “illegal” and he’ll now have to apply a flat-rate reduction to all such benefits. This will inevitably hit the families of the unemployed and low-waged proportionately much harder than the middle- and upper-classes.

This is only the latest u-turn forced on Senior Counsel Lenihan for “legal reasons”.

Most recently we had the budget announcements in the Dáil about removal of payment of ministerial pensions to sitting members of the Oireachtas, and the abolition of long-service bonuses to TDs. Shortly after the announcement, we were informed that, for “legal reasons”, existing recipients of these payments could not be stripped of them on an involuntary basis. This can only have been a most cynical political exercise by Minister Lenihan or else a demonstration of gross legal incompetence.

Most of the “ministerial incompetence” charges of late have been levelled at Mary Coughlan – and God knows, she deserves much of it. When Brian Lenihan was appointed Minister for Finance, many political opponents and media commentators pointed out that he had never served in an economic ministry or had any background in finance. We were reassured that, as a highly regarded senior counsel, he had the smarts to get very quickly on top of his new brief in Finance.

However, the constant unpicking, on legal grounds, of measures proposed by the Minister shortly after they are announced, leaves serious question marks over his legal, never mind financial, competence.

By extension, it also raises question-marks over just what value the state is getting from the array of legal eagles involved in our long-running plethora of tribunals. Many have literally earned millions - some of these guys have been getting €2,500 a day.
Now the Moriarty Tribunal is to re-open hearings, in light of the belated decision by Govt to disclose that then Minister Michael Lowry signed the mobile phone deal with Esat (Denis O’Brien) on foot of legal advice from the Attorney General, who had obtained external advice from Senior Counsel Richard Nesbitt.

This raises a number of important questions:
(a) Why did a succession of FF-led Govts conceal the existence of this legal advice?
(b) Had it been revealed at the start of the process, how much more quickly would the Tribunal have arrived at a conclusion?
(c) How much public money would have been saved in that event?
(d) How much extra cost will be incurred by the Tribunal having now to re-open hearings and the inevitable delay in producing its findings?

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