The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, has said there is no question of the Mahon Tribunal being closed down by the Government.  

Mr Ahern said, through his spokesperson, that the Environment Minister Dick Roche was having discussions about fees and time frame issues, which had to be addressed.

Earlier, Minister for Justice Michael McDowell said the costs for the tribunal on planning matters could top €1bn, and has warned that the situation could not go on forever.

Mr McDowell agreed that when three judges were appointed to replace Mr Justice Flood the anticipation had been that they could sit separately and expedite matters, but he said he did not want to get into an argument over the workings of the inquiry.

However he insisted that €1bn was a lot of money to spend on investigating corruption in local government.

That money, Mr McDowell said, could be spent on hospitals, prisons and pensions and the question was whether to continue to the bitter end pouring money relentlessly into an inquiry when people already knew the gist of what had happened.

Mr Roche, whose department has responsibility for the Mahon Tribunal, said he agreed with the Tánaiste.

Through a spokesperson, Mr Roche said he wanted to see the inquiry carry out its work effectively, efficiently and economically, adding that, while he was a great defender of the tribunal, there had to be finality.

Fine Gael's Fergus O'Dowd countered that if there was no corruption there would be no costly tribunals, while Labour's Eamon Gilmore claimed it was sinister and disturbing for Mr McDowell to be threatening the tribunal.