Lawyers earn €157m from institutional abuse cases

Ken Foxe, Public Affairs Correspondent: Sunday Tribune
5th December 2010

Some €157m has been paid in legal fees to barristers and solicitors who worked on behalf of victims of institutional abuse.

The costs make up more than 15% of all the money paid out as part of the redress scheme for thousands of people who suffered sexual and physical abuse in industrial schools and other institutions.

Six firms of solicitors have earned at least €1m for their work on the cases while the maximum award paid to a victim was just €300,000.

Author Paddy Doyle said the legal profession had made a “very tidy living” from the so-called Residential Institutions Redress Board (RIRB).

He said: “How can the spending of €157m in fees for work done by the legal profession ever be justified?

“The vast majority of us who appeared before the RIRB wrote our own statements, had them verified by psychiatrists and others. The solicitors and lawyers simply passed them on to the officers of the RIRB. This is a scandal of enormous proportions.”

The Department of Education said the cost of the redress scheme from its inception to now was €1.038bn. Of that, €832m was paid in awards.

The Department of Education defended the amount spent on lawyers and said the scheme had been specifically designed to reduce costs.

It said: “[It] provided a simple mechanism for redress designed to avoid the complexity, expense and trauma of court proceedings without the need for applicants to prove their case in a formal court setting.

“Had the board not been established, the likelihood is that applicants… may have opted for a civil action, which would undoubtedly have attracted significantly higher legal fees per case.”

The department said only a “reasonable amount” for legal expenses could be paid in each case, including any related court proceedings.

However, it said where legal costs were too high and could not be agreed, it referred them back to the taxing master to come up with a fairer figure.

The most recent annual report of the RIRB from 2008 showed that six legal firms had made €1m.

Michael E Hanahoe solicitors was paid €3.02m for 186 cases while Peter McDonnell & Associates received €2.82m for 351 cases. Two other firms, Byrnes Carolan Cunningham and Murphy English & Co have both earned in excess of €2m.