Clare County Council paid over €1 million in legal fees last year.
It represents an increase of €241,804 on 2015 figures for which a total of €837,772 was spent by the council.
Data was presented to elected members of Clare County Council at its January meeting following a joint proposal from Cllr Clare Colleran Molloy, Cllr Christy Curtin and Cllr PJ Kelly.
In 2016 alone, €809,101 was paid out to Michael P Houlihan Solicitors which is €28,671 shy of the 2015 total spend. The same firm has received the most business from the council with the bulk of the cost coming from litigation, opinion and enforcement (€434,804) while other areas of expenditure include conveyancing (€118,369), debt collection (€91,528), leasing (€51,565) and categories defined as other leaving a bill of €113,105. Over the past two years, the Ennis based legal firm has received €1,267,770 from the Council.
Fifteen legal firms received payment from the local authority in 2016. Next to Michael P Houlihan Solicitors, Sheehan & Company received the second highest sum (€64,597), followed by James Connolly S.C. (€57,035), Dermot Flanagan SC (€31,006), Patrick G Quinn (€25,209), O’Mara Geraghty McCourt Solicitors (€20,855) and David Quinn BL (€20,621).
Completing the list of expenses for last year were; Alan Flanagan (€9,756), Jarlath Fitzimons Senior Counsel (€9,225), Sinead Kelly (€5,900), Gavin Ralston (€3,875), Mary Cashin Associates (€3,629), Peter Shanley BL (€3,444) and Patrick Whyms BL (€3,075).
Noticeably David Scott & Co Solicitors who received the second highest sum from the council in 2015 had no dealings with the Council in 2016.
Niall Barrett, Head of Finance with the local authority said of the legal fees. “In relation to 2016, it should be noted that the a number of cases which had been ongoing for some time were completed and the legal costs became due in one year for work done over a number of years”.
According to Barrett all figures were inclusive of VAT and he added, “It should be noted that the total amounts include €322,000 for 2015 and €214,000 for 2016 in relation to legal costs incurred on capital job codes, which are funded in many cases by grants”.
Cllr Clare Colleran-Molloy outlined her disappointment to see “scarce resources spent in legal area”. She noted that the Wexford County Council equivalent spend is “substantially lower” with bills of €150,000. “Serious analysis is warranted” according to the Fianna Fáil councillor who then stated that “those figures would warrant a salary for a person”.
“That figure of €1m deserves analysis, we must be seen to be in control of our expenditure”, highlighted Cllr Christy Curtin. He commended Niall Barrett and his staff for their “forthright reply”, before pointing out that the 2014 figures were in excess of €613,000 and two years later this rose to over €1 million. “It is not enough to raise alarm we must turn on the clock. There is a duty of care on us to act accordingly”, the Independent councillor commented.
Fianna Fáil’s PJ Kelly was extremely concerned with the figures. He used Kerry County Council as an example and said they have “a much bigger budget and an inhouse legal team”. He remarked that despite this Clare County Council still has “five times the legal spend”.