The Dublin government has been accused of seeking to cover up the findings of the Moriarty report, which found former Fine Gael minister Michael Lowry had acted in “profoundly corrupt” manner.
The Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader, Enda Kenny, stopped short of calling for Lowry to resign his seat in the Dublin parliament, saying only: “In an ideal world he should resign but we don’t live in an ideal world.”
The tribunal, chaired by Justice Michael Moriarty, concluded that Mr Lowry, then minister for communications, “secured the winning” of the 1995 mobile phone licence competition for Denis O’Brien’s Esat Digifone.
It found Mr O’Brien made two payments to Mr Lowry in 1996 and 1999 totalling approximately half a million pounds and supported a 420,000 pound loan given to Mr Lowry in 1999.
Fine Gael later received a US $50,000 donation from associates of Mr O’Brien.
Lowry also had a corrupt relationship with former supermarket tycoon Ben Dunne, the tribunal found.
The Garda (police) Criminal Assets Bureau and Bureau of Fraud Investigation are examining the tribunal report.
Despite a number of major scandals in recent years, a charge of corruption has very rarely been brought against a former minister in the 26-County state. Irish politicians often boast of their ability to bend the laws, adopting nicknames such as ‘The Stroke’ and ‘Sugar Daddy’, and despite 15 years of scandals, Michael Lowry remains hugely popular in his local constituency of Tipperary North.
The report did, however, encourage the Labour Party to call for Lowry to quit.
“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 Labour leader Eamon Gilmore.
A Fianna Fail spokesman said: “People want to know about any correlation between the highly-suspect fundraising activities of Fine Gael and the Cabinet’s decision to forego even basic scrutiny of the largest-ever commercial decision of an Irish Government.”
Although falling short on Lowry’s position, Mr Kenny admitted it was “wrong” of Fine Gael to accept the US dollar cheque from Telenor, a member of the consortium that was awarded the second mobile phone licence.
Mystery still remains over how the $50,000 ‘donation’ was handled and apparent attempts by Fine Gael to conceal its source. “It reads like a novel,” said Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, of the report’s investigation into the shadowy payment.
Sinn Fein also criticised the proposed format for the Dail discussion on the report on Tuesday and Wednesday next week.
Only the current Minister for Communications, the Labour Party’s Pat Rabbitte, will answer questions on the matter.
Six members of the present government were at the cabinet table when the mobile phone licence was awarded to Esat Digifone in 1996. The Taoiseach also insisted in parliament this week that these ministers would have “no difficulty” answering questions.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams told reporters: “We don’t think that what is planned is a proper debate.”
Describing the format as “unacceptable”, he said: “There are no ministers who are going to be open to being questioned apart from Minister Rabbitte.”
He said the tribunal report had shown that Fine Gael party had engaged in “money-laundering” and he added the main government party must account for that.
On Lowry’s position, Mr Adams said he should resign and, under Sinn Fein parliamentary reform proposals, he would have had to do so.