HARRY McGEE, DEAGLÁN DE BRÉADÚN, MARY MINIHAN and PAUL CULLEN
Divisions have emerged between the Coalition parties in their respective positions on the political future of the Independent Tipperary North TD Michael Lowry in the wake of the Moriarty report’s damning findings against him.
Fine Gael pointedly declined to respond to the comments of Tánaiste and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore yesterday that it was his view Mr Lowry should resign from the Dáil following the publication of the report.
“It’s my view that any public representative, any TD, who is the subject of the kind of criticism that Mr Lowry has been subject to in the Moriarty tribunal . . . should consider resigning,” said Mr Gilmore.
However, when asked about Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s view on Mr Lowry’s position in the wake of the adverse finding, his spokesman in Government said that he would not give a “knee-jerk response to the question now”. He said the Taoiseach would fully deal with the matter next week when the report was debated by the Dáil over two days.
He said it seemed the views expressed had been Mr Gilmore’s personal views. However, a Labour spokesman later made it clear he had been speaking on behalf of the party. He said that while no formal position had been adopted, Mr Gilmore was party leader and Labour’s chief spokesman.
The Fine Gael spokesman said Mr Kenny had given “two emphatic responses” to the report yesterday by referring it to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Garda Commissioner on the one hand, and also by greatly expediting the holding of the Dáil debate.
Mr Kenny had also described the 2,200-page document as a “serious report”, he said, while also fully accepting it was “wrong” of Fine Gael to accept a donation of $50,000 from Telenor, a member of the consortium that was awarded the second mobile phone licence.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin last night strongly criticised Fine Gael’s refusal to comment on Mr Lowry’s position, repeating his claim that the Government’s response to the report was a “deafening silence”.
Mr Martin told The Irish Times that Mr Kenny’s position on Mr Lowry was entirely consistent with his approach in the Dáil yesterday – “to keep the head down, try to pull down the shutters and hope that with the European summit coming up the agenda moves on. We are not going to allow it,” he said.
Earlier yesterday Mr Martin called on Mr O’Brien to “withdraw” from attacking the judiciary and warned of the danger this represented to democracy. “Given the interplay between the media, politicians and the judiciary, going down that path is very dangerous for our democracy. We must respect and honour the independence of the judiciary.”
Mr Lowry said last night he had no intention of resigning his Dáil seat despite calls for him to do so.
He also told The Irish Times he was pleased the report was being referred to the DPP.
“There is a huge difference between the evidentiary trail that will be applied by the DPP’s office, as well as the burden of proof that is required. I think it is grossly unfair that an opinion of one individual can actually damn as many members of the public service and myself as Moriarty has done in this report,” he said.
In a similar vein, businessman and Esat founder Denis O’Brien, also the subject of adverse findings in the report, said he welcomed the referral to the DPP.
“I believe the desperately flawed nature and troubling modus operandi of the Moriarty tribunal will be quickly laid bare when subjected to an independent examination by a proper authority. The sooner that this is done the better,” he said.
Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan dismissed as groundless Fianna Fáil demands for him to consider his position in the light of the report’s findings. At the public hearings, there was a conflict of evidence between Mr Hogan and auctioneer Mark FitzGerald, the latter insisting he had been present at a meeting attended by Mr O’Brien.
Mr Hogan said he could not recall having been present. Fianna Fáil TD Billy Kelleher said it was clear Mr Justice Moriarty accepted the evidence of Mr FitzGerald over Mr Hogan. But Mr Hogan said the judge was silent on this matter and did not come to any conclusion. “It clearly showed that I had no influence over the licence process and had played no hand, act or part in awarding the [phone] licence,” he said. Mr Kelleher’s claims were “semantics from a political party that had been hammered in the elections”.