Ireland's Parliament (Oireachtas) has the power to establish tribunals of
inquiry to investigate certain matters of public importance.
These tribunals are not permanent tribunals. Instead, they are set up with
investigate specific matters. They are usually chaired by judges or senior
At the end of the investigation, the tribunal submits a report to the
Oireachtas, which may contain recommendations.
Significant costs have arisen in recent years with regard to tribunals. The
Comptroller and Auditor General published a Special
Report into Tribunals of Inquiry (pdf) in December 2008. The report gives
an estimate of the costs involved in the more recent Mahon, Moriarty and Morris
Some of the tribunals that have been set up in include:
- The Tribunal of Inquiry into the Beef Processing Industry, 1994. This
tribunal was set up to investigate alleged irregularities in the way the
beef industry in Ireland was being run.
- The Tribunal of Inquiry into the Blood Transfusion Service Board, 1997.
This tribunal was set up to investigate the infection of large numbers of
people in the 1970s and 1980s with contaminated blood products.
- The Tribunal of Inquiry into Payments to Politicians (Dunnes Stores),
1997. This tribunal was set up to investigate the payment of moneys to
- The Mahon Tribunal
(Formerly known as the 'Flood Tribunal'). This tribunal was set up to
investigate payments to politicians in the context of planning decisions.
- The Moriarty
Tribunal. This tribunal was set up to investigate into payments to
politicians, including former Taoiseach Charles Haughey.
- The Lindsay Tribunal. This tribunal was set up to inquire into the
infection with HIV and Hepatitis C of persons with haemophilia.
- The Laffoy
Commission. This tribunal was set up to examine claims of child abuse
within the State's industrial schools.
- The Morris
Tribunal. This tribunal was set up to investigate complaints concerning
some Gardaí of the Donegal division.
Tribunals of Inquiry and Equality
In May 2005, the Law Reform Commission published a Report
on Public Inquiries Including Tribunals of Inquiry (pdf). This Report
followed on from a Consultation Paper originally published by the Law Reform
Commission in 2003. The Report came in the wake of the establishment of
numerous tribunals. These tribunals have examined various matters, including
major disasters involving loss of life, and allegations of wrongdoing in land
development and the planning process.
The Report also recommends procedural changes concerning the selection of an
appropriate type of inquiry, drafting appropriate terms of reference, the
rights of individuals and organisations to be heard and represented and the
awarding of legal costs.
of Inquiry Bill 2005 (pdf) aims to consolidate and modernise the law
regarding Tribunals of Inquiry.
The Bill contains provisons which:
- Clarify the process for setting and amending terms of reference of a
- Require a tribunal, within three months of its establishment, to produce
a statement of estimated costs and duration of the tribunal. This statement
must be subsequently amended after significant developments
- Enable the Government for stated reasons and following a resolution of
both Houses of the Oireachtas to dissolve a tribunal
- Governing the taking of evidence, including a provision to end the costly
practice of orally reading-in of evidence already available in
written form and not disputed
- Clarify the situation with regard to the granting of legal representation
before a tribunal
- Enable the responsible Minister will be able to request an interim report
on the general progress of an inquiry, or of a particular aspect of an
inquiry, from the tribunal
- Allow tribunal reports to be admissible in civil cases. This section
provides that the facts in a report or the opinions expressed therein are
- Require the Minister for Justice, Equality and Equality, with the
consent of the Minister for Finance, to make regulations which will set out
maximum amounts of legal fees recoverable from the State
- Require the Taxing Master of the High Court, when adjudicating on
applications for costs in respect of third parties, not to exceed the
amounts set out in the regulations.