A flood of compensation claims by Irish Army personnel for damaged hearing has plunged Ireland's legal profession into fresh controversy over fees.
So far, 1,000 cases have been dealt with, costing the state IR£350m – and earning the legal teams who handled them IR£5m.
But, with 9,000 cases pending, Irish Defence Minister Michael Smith warned that the final bill could reach IR£2bn – with millions going in legal costs.
Smith has scheduled talks with the Law Society of Ireland in an attempt to get the professional body to accept a voluntary agreement on a single fixed fee for lawyers handling the claims. He hinted that if agreement could not be reached he might try to impose one.
But the society's director-general Ken Murphy accused the minister of using the costs issue to divert attention from the victims of what he calls the state's “shameful neglect”. The cases arose because of the alleged failure by the army to ensure that soldiers wore adequate ear protection on firing ranges in breach of Department of Defence regulations.
Murphy added that lawyers involved in the cases were charging the standard rate for personal injury cases and that the cost seemed high because there were so many cases.
He would not comment on the fixed-fee plan, but said that the society was prepared to discuss “all reasonable proposals” with the minister.