THE daily rate for barristers appearing at tribunals is to be axed and replaced by a system of fixed fees which will dramatically slash their earnings by as much as 80%, the Sunday Tribune has learned.

The current daily rate for tribunal senior counsel of e2,500 has been aggressively targeted by finance minister Charlie McCreevy, who has previously argued that ordinary people are "living on that for an entire month".

Under his new plans, no barrister working at a tribunal would earn more than the High Court judge overseeing the inquiry. The annual salary of a High Court judge is e172,409, effectively bringing the rate for tribunal barristers down to the equivalent of e500 per day.

It is expected that the proposals will provide for fixed fees to be decided in advance of tribunals or inquiries.

It is not known if the new rates will apply only to new tribunal personnel or if existing tribunal barristers will also be facing a pay cut. It is believed the latter scenario is unlikely and that, for legal/contractual reasons, the new rates will only apply to tribunal newcomers.

The move is likely to win major public backing. There has been growing disquiet at the soaring costs of tribunals which, up to the end of October last, had exceeded e100m. The Mahon tribunal has produced a total of six tribunal millionaires, including two barristers who have earned in excess of e2m.

McCreevy had signalled his intention to end "this gravy train" at the Fianna Fáil ard fheis in March, but the depth of the cuts in fees is a major surprise.