Irish rage as public picks up £7m bill

The award of almost IR£7 million in fees to a legal team which represented a company at the centre of a judicial inquiry into the Irish meat industry has provoked a storm of protest in Eire.

Senior counsel Dermot Gleeson, who led a team representing Goodman International at the inquiry, has been awarded fees of almost £1 million. Ironically, he has since become Attorney General and because of his personal involvement, cannot now advise the government on whether to appeal the award.

Another senior counsel employed by the company is to be paid £434,000 while two barristers are to get fees of £651,875 and £623,025. A firm of solicitors which acted for the company is to get over £3 million in fees, with a second firm collecting £554,000.

A former minister in the Irish department of justice, Willie O'Dea, himself a solicitor, described the size of the payments as “bordering on the obscene”. Former justice minister Desmond O'Malley, also a solicitor, called them “grotesque” and urged that they be appealed.

Allegations of fraud, tax evasion and the fiddling of EU funds made against Goodman International, the Republic's leading meat processor, in a 1991 World in Action TV programme forced the Irish government to establish a judicial inquiry into the industry.

It was chaired by Mr Justice Liam Hamilton, now the Irish Chief Justice, involved most of Eire's top legal talent and dragged on for two years.

In his report, the judge confirmed there had been large scale, organised tax evasion by Goodman and said it had also misappropriated beef owned by the European Union and sold it to commercial customers.

As a result of this finding, Eire is being asked to repay £68 million to the EU. But Goodman has not been penalised, either for the tax evasion or the misappropriation.

Now it is also to have its legal costs paid by the taxpayer as a result of a decision by the Taxing Master of the Irish High Court, James Flynn.

He recognised the costs “are indeed enormous”, but dismissed an appeal by the government that the amounts be severely reduced. If parliament established a judicial inquiry, he said, the state “has to meet costs reasonably incurred”.