Tuesday, 29 March 2011
Dáil Éireann Debate
An Ceann Comhairle: Before we move on to statements on the Moriarty tribunal I beg the indulgence of the House. As my predecessors have ruled in similar circumstances, while the Chair fully acknowledges that the House is about to embark on a discussion of a tribunal of inquiry report which criticises named individuals who are very much in the public domain, I ask Members to be mindful when making their contributions to take into account as far as it is humanly possible the long-standing convention of this House, namely that Members should avoid criticising or making charges against a person outside the House as he is defenceless against accusations made under privilege.
Standing Order 59 offers some protection and safeguards to persons in this regard. However, these are limited but it remains the case that serious allegations, in particular against any member of the Judiciary, should not be made under privilege. Members should also remember that the House is not a court of law and questions of guilt or innocence are matters for decision by the courts. Adjudication on aspects of current controversy under fair and proper procedures rests elsewhere in accordance with the law and not with the House. There is therefore an onus on Members to avoid, if at all possible, referring to others in a manner which could be construed as being prejudicial to any subsequent investigations which may be deemed necessary by appropriate authorities. Any Member wishing to pursue such matters should table a motion to that end which, subject to the rules of order, can be moved and debated subsequently.
The Taoiseach: I welcome the fact that the House will hold a comprehensive debate on the final report of the Moriarty tribunal. I am sure that Members will appreciate that I am somewhat constrained in what I can say because there are legal proceedings before the courts.
how I described the first Moriarty report when I sat in the seat currently occupied by Deputy Martin. Across Ireland, four years later, people might think, “Here we go again.” I assure them that is certainly not the case because the recent election did matter. The people’s vote did and will bring change. They were right to place their trust in a new Government. Consequently, on this final Moriarty report, they can expect anything but more of the same. I know that yet another report reeking of fanatical greed or an obsessive attachment to power and breathtaking attempts to acquire, use and access privilege is enough for the people of Ireland. In fact, it is too much — way too much, as they watch their own lives imploding and the future they had planned disappearing. This report will weary and bewilder people more than others. In these straitened times, when people are hurting and suffering so badly what the report exposes is all the more galling, damaging and worrying. In a well-functioning democracy, a republic, this information, difficult as it might be, is essential.
I welcome the publication of the final report of the Moriarty tribunal. I welcome the fact that the tribunal does two important things: It exonerates the members of the then Government of any wrongdoing in the awarding of the licence and it asserts that the normal decision-making procedures were bypassed in that case. The tribunal finds seriously against Deputy Michael Lowry and others who are major players in Irish business and public life. The Minister for Justice and Law Reform has already addressed the arrogance, unseemliness and danger of their public reaction.
Deputy Lowry, however, was elected to the Dáil, the highest forum in the land, on the basis of public trust. It is here in this forum that I expect him to avail of the opportunity to answer Mr. Justice Moriarty’s finding against him. I expect him to do so forensically and willingly and not from any sense of ego or position he and others might have adopted from the outset of this tribunal, or from any sense of mandate. I cannot imagine a mandate from the Irish people, or true democrats anywhere, that would involve an order, desire or permission for the behaviour outlined in the report.
I remind the House that, even before the tribunal, when the first issue regarding Deputy Lowry’s conduct arose, Fine Gael acted immediately. He was removed from Government office and then from the party itself. Fine Gael did so in keeping with the party’s desire to maintain probity and standards in politics, as befits the party that founded the State. Fine Gael’s response was swift and appropriate, in sharp contrast with the blind and tribal defences mounted by other parties in comparable circumstances. In that context, I welcome equally the tribunal’s recommendations. In many ways, the recommendations reflect the vital reform plans of this Government. This is a serious report that merits a serious response. Previous tribunals elicited thousands of words, but pitiful inaction on the part of those who then sat on this side of the House. The new Government breaks from that precedent and will act definitively and decisively.
We referred the Moriarty report to the Garda Commissioner, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Revenue Commissioners without issue, hesitation or equivocation. Earlier today, the Cabinet considered the report and directed the relevant Departments to provide a comprehensive report for the Government within four weeks on the report’s recommendations so that appropriate action can be taken in respect of a number of them. We plan further direct action to sever the links between politics and business once and for all and, in so doing, achieve three fundamental goals: stop the further pollution of our society; re-establish a moral code and order regarding public life; and, through that, restore public confidence in politics and government.
It is in that context that I want to deal with the tribunal’s interaction with the Fine Gael Party. In September 1997, the then Government voted unanimously to set up the Moriarty tribunal. Fine Gael assisted the tribunal in every way possible to the degree that, on occasion, the tribunal commended the party on its assistance and co-operation. To the best of my knowledge, Fine Gael was the only political entity before the tribunal to waive its entitlement to legal privilege and make available all notes, letters and attendance notes that were available to the party’s legal advisers for the purpose of obtaining a legal opinion from an eminent senior counsel. By any objective measure, these are not the actions of a party that had anything to hide.
With regard to the issue of the much discussed Telenor donation to the party, mindful of its obligations to the tribunal, and concerned that the donation might fall within the terms of reference of the tribunal, Fine Gael sought the opinion of a senior counsel, who gave the clear opinion that this donation did not fall within the remit of the tribunal. That legal opinion stated the donation in question was a donation to the party and that, because it was a party donation and was of no benefit to Deputy Michael Lowry, it did not fall within the tribunal’s remit. Fine Gael acted on that legal opinion. To clear up any doubt that might exist about the clarity of this opinion, I have instructed Fine Gael Party officials to publish it on the party’s website immediately.
For its part, the Moriarty tribunal has recognised Fine Gael’s entitlement to adhere to the strong legal opinion it received. Equally, the tribunal expresses its regret that the party did not over-ride that opinion. There are three points I would like to make in this regard. First, I do not just share Mr. Justice Moriarty’s regret as I believe our party’s failure to over-ride the legal opinion was, in hindsight, wrong.
Second, the circuitous and clandestine way in which the cheque was routed to the party was also wrong. This resulted in the then party officials not being initially aware of the true source of the donation. When the source did become known, the position of the party leadership was unequivocal. Section 62.04 of the Moriarty tribunal report, which outlines the final conclusions of the report, states: “That donation was unwelcome to the party and was rejected by the party leader”. Not alone did the then Taoiseach, Mr. John Bruton, reject it, he ordered that the money be returned. The tribunal report states:
Thereafter, when Deputy Michael Noonan became leader and the donation was once more at issue, he in turn ordered that all relevant documentation be made available to the tribunal with alacrity and seriousness. The tribunal welcomed his actions in so doing. Third, in the context of the new, revitalised republic we are in the process of building, with the Government and people working together in trust and partnership, neither action would happen today.
To recreate political virtue, rebuild public trust and restore our reputation, it is no longer sufficient to do what is correct. To achieve even a fraction of that, we must do what is right. While what is correct starts in legal opinions and rules and legislation, what is right starts here in the human heart, in our conscience, in respect for our neighbour, and in the values that define who we are and what we want to be. If this is how we try to live our lives, this is how we should practise our politics. I speak for the entire Government when I say this is what will inspire and drive our tenure in office.
In the programme for Government, which was published by the new Government and endorsed by this House prior to the publication of the Moriarty tribunal’s report, we set out proposals for the most comprehensive programme of political reform since the 1930s. We believe politics must be about service to the public, and not to provide financial gain for politicians or anyone else. We have already kept our promise to reduce the salaries of members of the Government and to reform the arrangements in regard to ministerial transport.
With regard to the relationship between business and politics, we committed ourselves to introducing the necessary legal and constitutional provisions to ban corporate donations to political parties. I am informed by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government that this legislation is now being prioritised and that it should be published before the summer. We also committed ourselves to reducing the limits on donations to political parties and candidates and to requiring disclosure of all aggregate sums above a limited threshold. We promised to introduce a statutory register of lobbyists, in addition to a set of rules governing the practice of lobbying.
With regard to the relationship between civil servants and Ministers, we need to introduce reforms that reflect the transformation taking place in this relationship in light of the public service transformation programme. The programme for Government outlines substantial reforms in this area.
We will introduce whistleblowers legislation and return freedom of information legislation to where it was before the 2003 Act was introduced. We will amend the Official Secrets Act, retaining a criminal sanction only for breaches that involve a serious threat to the vital interests of the State. We will scrap the current restrictions on the nature and extent of evidence by civil servants to Oireachtas committees and replace them with new guidelines that reflect the reality of the authority delegated to them and their personal accountability for the way it is exercised. We will amend the rules to ensure that no Minister or senior public servant, including a political appointee, can work in the private sector in any area involving a potential conflict of interest with his former area of public employment until at least two years have elapsed after he has left public service. We will also introduce reforms which, while not directly related to issues emerging from the Moriarty tribunal, will ensure that trust is restored in our democratic institutions and that the concerns of citizens, rather than the elites, are placed firmly at the centre of Government.
In its terms of reference, the Moriarty tribunal was asked to bring forward any recommendations which it deemed appropriate to the matters investigated by it. In this context, in addition to dealing with the issue of political donations, the tribunal’s final report outlined a series of recommendations in the areas of company law, the independence of the Revenue Commissioners and the future conduct of tribunals of inquiry.
With regard to Mr. Justice Moriarty’s comments on the conduct of tribunals of inquiry, the Government has restored the Tribunals of Inquiry Bill to the Dáil Order Paper. This Bill will provide for a comprehensive reform and consolidation of the current legislation relating to tribunals of inquiry to put in place a modern and comprehensive statutory framework governing all aspects of the operation of a tribunal, from the time of its establishment to the publication of its final report. The Bill implements in large part the proposals contained in the Law Reform Commission’s report on public inquiries, particularly those relating to the more efficient management and operation of public inquiries. We will review the Bill in the context of the report’s recommendations on tribunals of inquiry.
Much comment has been made on the effectiveness of using tribunals at all for inquiring into matters of urgent public importance. The Government is committed to holding a referendum, subject to approval by the Oireachtas, to reverse the effects of the Abbeylara judgment and enable Oireachtas committees to carry out full investigations.
The Taoiseach: Overall, for the sake of our democracy, and in the context of the national misery caused by weak and reckless administration and corrupt self-serving politicians, we must return both government and parliament to the people. We must rehabilitate the idea of civic virtue and the idea of the duty and nobility of public service. We must do so and we will.
Let me state as Taoiseach, and as father of the House, the very fact that a modern democracy — a still-young republic — would require tribunals into payments to politicians at all is proof of the degradation of politics, the decline of civic virtue, and the inevitable rise of public cynicism and disengagement. It also shows what happens to a society when people swap the big idea of being responsible and powerful citizens for the infinitely smaller and confining idea of being mere customers or consumers.
Ironically, it was Deputy Lenihan who best summed up our current situation when he said, last Thursday, that, “Nothing would damage our international reputation more than uncertainty on an issue of that character”. He was right, but where he says “would damage” I say that incalculable damage has already been done because of a culture of “thanks very much, big fella”, walking-around money, whip-rounds, luck on the horses and a Taoiseach degrading our nation and this office by trousering after-dinner tips. It is a culture typified by arrogant, mercenary and immoral politics that almost ruined our reputation and made a mockery of character itself. When that culture included business and banking it contaminated our country, divided our society and diminished our republic.
That contamination, division and diminution must end now, when the stakes are soaring, when our country faces unprecedented obstacles, when the eyes of so many are on us and when, as a country, we have the palpable and urgent sense of making a new start for and with each other, together for a change. The contamination, division and diminution end here with this Government, which has a radically different standard and a radically different view, which is that the Irish people are citizens of a republic; that we have rights and responsibilities to build a bright future, a strong economy, and a compassionate and thoughtful society; and that we will exercise these rights to the fullest by believing and showing that we cannot be bought, cheapened or exploited by politicians, banks and businesses, whoever they might be or from wherever they might come.
This new speculation in favour of the citizen, democracy and justice can do much to give our own people, and others, new confidence, faith and energy in the ideals on which our republic is founded. Yes, Ireland might be a small country but we are a significant nation. Our honour, reputation and future are priceless and can never be for sale, whether as a matter of fact, perception or opinion.
When I was elected Taoiseach, I spoke of restoring morality to our public life. I did so aware that we are haunted by a previous morality, where elements of the church and State colluded to permit all kinds of savagery on our society. It was a morality that decommissioned conscience, suffocated spirit and created an architecture of intrigue, denial and deception that excluded heart, truth and even humanity itself. In the aftermath of this report, I want the Government and the people to work together to bring a new, life-giving morality to public and civic Ireland. This morality would be based on compassion, kindness, thoughtfulness, dignity, honesty and, above all, respect for ourselves, for all who share our society and for our country. Such respect would bring out the best in the Irish people, making us responsible for our choices and our actions and keeping us mindful of their consequences for the generations to come, because the future belongs to them.
Deputy Micheál Martin: I welcome the publication of the final report of the Tribunal of Inquiry into Payments to Politicians and Related Matters. I accept fully the conclusions of the Moriarty tribunal, and I note that sentence is missing from the Taoiseach’s address. The Taoiseach needs to clarify prior to the conclusion of this debate that he accepts the conclusions and findings of the Moriarty report——
As we know, Mr. Justice Moriarty had an extremely difficult task. He investigated complex matters and faced active hostility from some individuals before the tribunal. He has done his work with integrity, commitment and skill and he has produced a very comprehensive report. I believe the Dáil and the public should thank him for his efforts.
This is a report of real significance. Mr. Justice Moriarty clearly sets out illicit, inappropriate and irregular behaviour which has done great damage and may cause much more. The report exposes serious malpractice and corruption. It is not based on the unfounded opinions of one judge; it is based on the evidence.
The report addresses two major issues relating to Deputy Michael Lowry. In relation to improper support he received from Ben Dunne, the evidence of his attempts to seek to corrupt an independent process in favour of Mr. Dunne is absolutely clear. However, the public policy implications of this and the unanswered questions are somewhat limited.
The main issue of focus in the report is, as a result, the awarding of the second GSM licence. This was the largest commercial contract ever awarded by the State. The report makes it abundantly clear that the integrity of this process was disgracefully compromised. The State may yet be exposed to punitive compensation claims from losing consortia, some of which appeared before the Supreme Court last week.
This report is a deep indictment of the conduct of Deputy Lowry, both as a Minister and in the years following his reluctant resignation. In spite of the deeply cynical spinning by Government representatives, the report encompasses far more than the damage caused by one rogue politician.
The facts are that the licence competition was allowed to develop in a way that directly went against the rules agreed by the then Government. It included the targeting of Fine Gael by a consortium through a conspicuous campaign of financial support, and basic procedures were set aside in signing off the award in favour of that consortium. When legitimate questions were raised by another bidder, they were dismissed out of hand by the then Taoiseach and leader of Fine Gael. During all of this, six members of the current Government were sitting at the Cabinet table. Another member of the current Cabinet, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, was chairman of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party and was directly involved in receiving donations covered by the tribunal’s report.
The report is a direct challenge to every Member of the House to treat its findings with the seriousness they deserve. It contains much detail, but this cannot be allowed to be an excuse for failing to accept clear conclusions. Over the past week, both the report and Mr. Justice Moriarty have been subject to a sustained attempt to undermine them and this has had two separate but equally serious elements. First, there has been the direct assault of Denis O’Brien, Deputy Michael Lowry and others. One of Ireland’s richest men and the owner of substantial media interests, has announced his intention to campaign against Mr. Justice Moriarty and his belief that there is a conspiracy against him and Deputy Michael Lowry which is being aided by the entire judicial system. Deputy Lowry’s attacks have been equally fierce. Second, there is a sustained effort to undermine the impact of the report through attempting to misrepresent its findings as being purely about one rogue Minister. The Government benches are full of people who have built their careers on posturing about both real and imagined ethical issues. When confronted with a report as serious as this, their response has been a combination of silence, misrepresentation and minimisation. In this House, the handling of the report by Government has been cynical in the extreme while outside of this House it has been a disgrace.
There are 112 Government Deputies but vast swathes of the airwaves have been left without a Fine Gael or Labour representative during the past week. It took four days before any member of Government could be found to criticise the escalating attacks on the Judiciary — and not one member of Government who participated in the process of awarding the licence has been willing to address his or her own role or knowledge other than to claim exoneration.
The Taoiseach came into this House last week and said that he and the six Ministers would answer questions. This pledge was then abandoned before word reached us this morning that the Taoiseach would, in fact, answer some questions. However, what we heard from the Taoiseach on the Order of Business was unprecedented. I have never heard of a Taoiseach saying he would answer on one part of a report and not another. This is an extraordinary state of affairs. The Taoiseach should be capable of answering all aspects and conclusions of the report with regard to the decision of a Government of which he was a member. I welcome the U-turn made by the Taoiseach but I ask that from now on, the prevarication stop and arrangements be made for all of the Ministers involved to be questioned on the issue of the awarding of the licence.
While saying that he had not read the report and could not comment upon it, the Taoiseach claimed in the House that “the report exonerates party leaders and members of the Cabinet”. Having praised his own commitment to transparency and honesty in everything only a few weeks ago, he has repeatedly refused to even acknowledge what the report says about the fund-raising activities in which he and other Fine Gael Ministers participated. Media management has been the main priority, as witnessed again this morning when the media were told about his U-turn on taking questions, in advance of the Opposition Whips being informed.
The efforts of Fine Gael spokespersons to claim that the Taoiseach has been forthright and energetic in this response to the report are nonsense. The Taoiseach informed the House that the first report of the Moriarty tribunal had waited for more than a month before it was discussed in the House. What he failed to state was that it was published a few days before Christmas and there were no Opposition calls for an earlier debate. He failed to state that the interim Flood tribunal and final McCracken tribunal reports were both debated on the first sitting day following their publication. He also failed to mention the number of times he and other members of Government demanded immediate statements and questions on daily evidence before tribunals.
The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, is already recorded in history as the Deputy most likely to sweep any passing rumour onto the record of this House in his now abandoned quest to rock foundations, yet he and the Labour Party have been fully complicit in the strategy of minimising the significance of the report. The notion that a Labour Party Minister could give clarity on internal Fine Gael affairs is an insult to the public and to the role of this Parliament. The other former ethics hawks who line the Government benches have been studiously non-judgmental and desperate in their attempts to avoid the topic. The only issue they have been loud on is claiming the right to decide who does and does not have the moral standing to even ask questions of Fine Gael and Labour.
I say to Deputies who make up the largest majority ever seen in this State that they have the numbers to shout down anyone if they wish; they have the numbers to vote through or block any business; if they want to fill our debates with sycophantic barracking in support of their leaders and against their opponents, they will be able to do this. The challenge for them is whether they will show themselves to be capable of putting aside the self-righteousness we saw during the election campaign and adhere to the standards we discussed on the first day of the Dáil term. We will see a lot from how they behave in this debate and how they react to legitimate questions, no matter how uncomfortable they are for them.
With regard to the Judiciary, I repeat my words of last week that I abhor the conspiracy theories and attacks which have been directed at the Irish judicial system in the past week. They are not perfect but they are a bulwark of our democratic system and we should not stand back and see them attacked in this manner. We should also acknowledge the work of journalists who have taken considerable professional risks in pursuing some of the matters addressed in this report. In one case, a journalist has been subject to what can only be described as a legal vendetta which he has had to face down at potentially great financial cost. Politicians often complain about the standards in journalism, but we should be willing to acknowledge significant public service when it occurs.
When the Government of Fine Gael, Labour and Democratic Left — the then party of the Tánaiste and the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte — was formed, one of the early items on its agenda was a consideration of how the second GSM licence was to be awarded. On 2 March 1995, a memorandum went to Cabinet which set out the process and guidelines for how Ministers should behave during the competition. It was to be a sealed process which would be entirely non-political from beginning to end. The role of Ministers was to be guardians of the process, reserving for themselves the final decision on the licence as a protection for the integrity of the competition. The guidelines, which were directed at all Ministers and not just at Deputy Lowry, stated that any meetings with bidders should have at least two extra witnesses present, that these meetings should be recorded immediately and that social exchanges with bidders should be avoided. The Cabinet agreed that this was essential to ensure the transparency and objectivity of the competition.
It is in the major deviations from the content and spirit of the process agreed on 2 March 1995, that the most serious issues arise both for Deputy Michael Lowry and for Ministers of the then Government. The uncontested facts of the tribunal’s report show that a Minister who was supposed to know nothing about the competition sought and received information from officials. They show that he pushed the process in the direction of one of the bidders. They show that he sought to influence at the very least the then Taoiseach with a false claim concerning supposed Fianna Fáil links to another bidder. They show that a targeted programme of financial donations to Fine Gael and engagement with Fine Gael politicians was a core part of the strategy of the same bidder. They show that enough was known about this for Cabinet to have insisted on a detailed report on the process before a decision was made. No twisting by either Deputy Lowry or any Minister or anyone else, can get away from these facts.
On 3 December 1996, following on from the announcement that Dunnes Stores had paid for work on the then Minister for Transport and Communication’s home which had not been declared to the Revenue, the current Taoiseach, Deputy Kenny said: “I very much regret the departure of Deputy Michael Lowry from Cabinet. I have known him for many years both as a member of Fine Gael and as a Government colleague and he is a man of the highest integrity and honour.” This perhaps explains the curiously equivocal and almost neutral stance adopted by the Taoiseach in his earlier contribution with regard to Deputy Lowry. The assessment in this report of Deputy Lowry is far less complimentary. It amounts to a shocking indictment of his behaviour. Commenting on his motives or actions, the report says of Deputy Lowry that it is “beyond doubt” that he gave “substantive information to Denis O’Brien, of significant value and assistance to him in securing the licence”; that he had “irregular interactions with interested parties at its most sensitive stages, sought and received substantive information on emerging trends (and) made his preference as between the leading candidates known”; that he “conferred a benefit on Mr. Denis O’Brien, a person who made payments to Mr. Lowry”; that he, “not only influenced, but delivered, the result”, when Esat secured the mobile phone licence; that he was an “insidious and pervasive influence” on the licensing process; that he had engaged in a “cynical and venal abuse of office”; and that he was involved in attempting to influence an arrangement that was “profoundly corrupt to a degree that was nothing short of breathtaking”.
Deputy Lowry wants the House to put aside the report and believe instead a series of explanations that, in fact, explain nothing. It is not credible to ask the House to see his pattern of actions during the competition and accept that he met with Mr. Denis O’Brien at the most sensitive time without either of them mentioning the competition. It is not credible to ask us to ignore the £147,000 paid into an Isle of Man account for his benefit but returned on the day that the McCracken tribunal was established. It is not credible to expect us to ignore the English property deals and falsified documentation. It is not credible at the end of this tribunal to expect us to accept his blanket denials over the accumulated evidence.
The guidelines adopted by Cabinet on 2 March 1995 laid great stress on the need to avoid contact with the bidders. Not only was this not adhered to, there was in fact what the report calls a concerted campaign of “conspicuous” financial support of Fine Gael during the competition period and immediately afterwards. Paragraph 41.34 of the report points out that excluding the $50,000 Telenor cheque, a total of £22,140 was paid by Mr. O’Brien or Esat companies to Fine Gael between January 1995 and June 1996. The evidence before the tribunal was that Esat had relatively limited financial resources available to it during most of this time, yet chose to prioritise donations to Fine Gael. The evidence before the tribunal was also that not one person in Fine Gael raised a concern during that time. This is all the more striking given that a substantial number of these donations were made in a manner where they were known to senior members but designed to avoid public scrutiny.
Enclosed was £4,000 sponsorship for the Fine Gael national golf classic. This donation was made by way of a bank draft by Esat at a time which in Mr. Justice Moriarty’s words “coincided with a critical point in the evaluation process” of the mobile telephone licence. The Minister, Deputy Hogan, was at that time chairman of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party, director of elections for by-elections and centrally involved in fundraising. Today he is a Cabinet Minister, trusted lieutenant to the Taoiseach, national director of elections for Fine Gael and centrally involved in the party’s fundraising.
While she is a minor figure in the whole affair, Ms Carey’s approach to the tribunal has been illustrative of a much wider strategy followed by others. When caught out, her approach has been to minimise the issue and look for distractions. Her lie or untruths to the tribunal related to when she leaked material in a vain attempt to spread Fine Gael’s pain to others. The idea that a donation to an Opposition party in the years after the competition should distract from what went on within Fine Gael at that time is remarkable.
As well as Esat conspicuously supporting Fine Gael fundraisers, Mr O’Brien and his companies engaged in what Mr. Justice Moriarty describes as a “concerted campaign” to raise its profile with Fine Gael with the assistance of Mr. Dan Egan, a former Fine Gael adviser. In 2003, at the tribunal, Mr. Egan confirmed that in this period he had arranged a meeting for Mr. O’Brien with the then Minister for Tourism and Trade, now Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny. This meeting took place on 17 May 1995. I believe it appropriate for the Taoiseach to outline to the House his knowledge of the concerted campaign undertaken by Mr. O’Brien in regard to Fine Gael Ministers.
The Taoiseach should also once and for all respond to the ongoing question surrounding the allegations contained in Magill in 2003 that he was a host of a fundraising dinner only two days before the second mobile telephone licence was awarded at which apparently one of the major bidders for the licence was present. When asked about this by journalists the Taoiseach, by then already leader of Fine Gael, refused to comment and there has been no comment in the eight years since then.
The Taoiseach was involved in Fine Gael fundraising at the time and respected this work enough to appoint one of the party’s trustees to the board of Bord Fáilte on his final day as Minister in 1997 — we all know how seriously the Taoiseach takes Ministers making appointments during their final day in office. Given the clear guidelines to which he and all members of Cabinet agreed on 2 March 1995, the Taoiseach should tell us the names of the two witnesses who attended this meeting and supply us with the written record of the meeting. If there were no witnesses and there is no record he should explain why.
In regard to the now infamous Telenor cheque, the Moriarty tribunal report has identified a number of troubling issues that require answers from Fine Gael Ministers including the Taoiseach. People should be in no doubt about why there was a major donation to Fine Gael by a company involved in a lucrative commercial licence awarded by the State. In the words of Denis O’Brien Snr., in his evidence to the tribunal, the donation was given to Fine Gael because “Fine Gael asked for the donation”. It was routed as it was, he said, to “ensure confidentiality”.
The proposal for a fundraising dinner was outlined initially in a letter dated 4 July 1995 to the then Minister, Deputy Lowry. That letter identified that “those attending the dinner should include the Taoiseach and Ministers Lowry, Barrett, Yates, [and] Kenny...”. The specific purpose of the dinner was not disinterested support of Fine Gael, but to be sold as something more. The letter stated that it was to be targeted at those who wished to “make a definite contact and to avail of the opportunity to discuss their future within Ireland under a Fine Gael government”. The Taoiseach needs to clarify — I believe he has clarified — if he was at the dinner and who attended that dinner on behalf of the Fine Gael Party at a senior level.
The Moriarty tribunal report refers critically to $50,000 cheque as a “covert routing of funds from Esat-Telenor to Fine Gael”. This payment was made in a clandestine manner to an offshore account to ensure it remained hidden from public view. In stark terms, in paragraph 3.61, the report states the payment was “made in a manner which, having regard to its false and misleading documentation, the initial payment to an off-shore Jersey account, and the eventual delays and misrepresented form of transmission to Fine Gael, was secretive, utterly lacking in transparency and designed to conceal the fact of such payment...”.
In regard to the Telenor cheque, Fine Gael should explain why there was such a delay in returning the donation. According to the report, on 2 March 1998 Fine Gael decided that it would return the donation to Telenor. However, as the report records at paragraph 6.36 the donation was not returned until March 2001. Why did this take more than three years?
Since the publication of this report, the Taoiseach has sought to make a virtue of the fact that his party returned the covert $50,000 donation and waived legal privilege. The facts are that this only ultimately happened when the donation was publicly exposed and it was clear that the Moriarty tribunal would be investigating it. Prior to this Fine Gael had attempted to hide this donation from the Moriarty tribunal by getting a senior counsel to advise on whether it was reportable.
The evidence of the former Fine Gael general secretary, Jim Miley, to the tribunal indicates that the idea that the cheque fell outside the terms of the tribunal was first suggested to Fine Gael by Esat’s public relations representative. As Mr. Justice Moriarty has reported, the clandestine circumstances of this donation would have remained hidden from public knowledge had it not been for media disclosures in 2001. The Taoiseach would be well advised to talk to his own party’s current general secretary on this matter. In 2001, Tom Curran said that the party had decided to not to report the donation to the Moriarty tribunal because it would have been “politically disastrous”. He said that he had feared if the donation was revealed a connection might be made between Fine Gael and the granting of a mobile telephone licence to Esat Digifone.
For the Taoiseach to claim, as he did today again in the House, that Fine Gael has been “commended” by the tribunal is deliberate misrepresentation of the report and a refusal to acknowledge a clear and serious finding of evasion against the Fine Gael Party.
On RTE’s “Prime Time” programme, on the day the Moriarty tribunal report was published, the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, claimed the report expressly exonerated the other members of the Fine Gael-Labour-Democratic Left Government of the time. This was repeated by the Taoiseach again in this House. The report does nothing of the sort. Beyond the spin, it is very clear from the report that a responsibility rests upon all of those Ministers who were members of the Cabinet in 1995 for how they allowed the process they agreed in March of that year to be subverted.
The tribunal report states at paragraph 60.19 that the then Minister, Deputy Lowry, “proceeded to bypass consideration by his Cabinet colleagues, and thereby not only influenced, but delivered the result” in favour of Esat Digifone. It seems some Ministers are seeking a pardon for themselves on the basis of this statement. However, the question that needs to be asked is how Ministers allowed themselves to be bypassed. Given the “conspicuous” nature of Esat’s lobbying and Deputy Lowry’s advocacy of their case, why did they sit back and say nothing?
It is documented in paragraph 48.31, that the meeting at which Deputy Lowry obtained political clearance to announce the winning consortium of the GSM licence — prior to it receiving full Cabinet approval — was actually a meeting of the aviation committee. It was not even a properly convened Cabinet committee and the issue of the mobile telephone licence had no business being discussed at it.
The Moriarty tribunal reports in detail how the decision of the Fine Gael-Labour-Democratic Left Government to award the licence was made on 25 October 1995. Mr. Justice Moriarty reports at paragraph 48.55 a private conversation between former Taoiseach, John Bruton, and the then Minister, Deputy Lowry. They then met the former Tánaiste, Dick Spring, Proinsias De Rossa, MEP, and the Minister, Deputy Quinn. At that meeting, Deputy Lowry said that Esat Digifone had won the competition. Deputy Lowry also recommended that he should proceed to announce the result forthwith rather than postpone the announcement until after the result had been considered by Cabinet at a meeting scheduled for the following day. This was approved. Mr. Justice Moriarty is highly critical in his report of the informality by which this crucial Government decision was taken. He states at paragraph 48.66:
In effect, what occurred was that the party leaders of Fine Gael, the Labour Party and Democratic Left, together with the Minister, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, acquiesced to Deputy Michael Lowry’s fast-track proposal that the result be announced immediately rather than being considered by the full Cabinet. A number of questions arise from the rushed and ill-informed decision of the Cabinet committee and the failure of the full Cabinet to consider the decision.
This was a widely publicised announcement. It was the largest commercial announcement ever made by an Irish Government. Why did the members of that Government not ask why the decision did not come up for discussion at Cabinet before it was announced? The Taoiseach as well as Ministers Ruairí Quinn, Brendan Howlin, Richard Bruton, Michael Noonan and Pat Rabbitte were members of that Cabinet. Why did none of these Ministers insist in accordance with procedure that this decision should come before Cabinet for discussion, particularly given the knowledge that some of them had that the spirit and content of the March guidelines had been broken?
Did the failure of this matter to come before Cabinet for discussion not raise a question in Ministers’ minds as to the orthodoxy of this decision? As Ministers who were aware that this decision had been made, but who were also aware that it had not been discussed by cabinet, do they now accept that they failed in their duty to scrutinise the contest in any way? We know that the scheduled Cabinet meeting on the next day, 26 October 1995, simply noted the decision that had already been made. The report states at paragraph 49.01:
Did no one at that Cabinet meeting ask why this decision was not being discussed at Cabinet? Did no one inquire as to whether they could have a report from the then Minister, Deputy Lowry, on the competition and how it progressed?
The report also raises critical issues about the evidence given to the tribunal by the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan. The position on this matter which is unequivocally set out in the report is as follows. Mark Fitzgerald, Fine Gael treasurer during the critical period, gave evidence to the Moriarty tribunal that he was asked to attend a meeting with Denis O’Brien in Lloyds Brassiere on 17 October 1995. He said that when he arrived he was surprised to see that also present were the Fine Gael chairman, the Minister, Deputy Hogan, and the late Deputy Jim Mitchell. He says that he was asked questions about the licence and whether he heard anything about it from Deputy Lowry. It is his evidence that this discussion took place while the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, was present with them at the same table.
The Minister, Deputy Hogan, gave evidence to the tribunal two days later and stated that as far as he was concerned that meeting did not take place or if it did take place, he had no recollection of it. However, his primary evidence was that it did not take place. In his evidence to the tribunal, which is available on its website in the transcript for day 237, the Minister said that he would have remembered such a meeting with Mr. O’Brien. That was a clear conflict of evidence that Mr. Justice Moriarty had to resolve and he resolved it in favour of Mark Fitzgerald. Consequently, in respect of the suggestion of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government that the meeting never occurred, that sworn evidence has been rejected by the tribunal.
There is nothing surprising in this, particularly given the unchallenged fact that the Minister, Deputy Hogan, was personally involved in receiving for Fine Gael a large donation from Denis O’Brien and Esat at a time when he was aware that Esat was competing for an immensely valuable State licence. If one takes the time to read the transcripts, one will see the futile effort undertaken by counsel for Denis O’Brien to undermine Mark Fitzgerald’s evidence.
It is now incumbent upon the Taoiseach to give his views on the credibility of a Government member whose evidence has not been accepted by a Tribunal established by the Oireachtas. The failure of the Taoiseach to do so has reinforced the impression of a Fine Gael Party that believes that accountability is for other people and that standards are to be demanded of others. The Taoiseach talks a lot about change, but what change is he showing in his failure to talk about how he and others in Fine Gael ignored their own guidelines, engaged directly with bidders for this licence and sought and received substantial donations?
From the outside we see the Minister, Deputy Hogan, is still central to Fine Gael fundraising and as recently as last month refused to answer questions about who it was targeting for funds. We see the person who was Deputy Lowry’s closest adviser in 1995 installed as the Taoiseach’s closest adviser today. We see Ministers leaving chairs vacant on important media programmes rather than run the risk of answering questions.
The Taoiseach and his Ministers want to draw a line but admit no errors. They want to propose reform, all of which is ready to implement and agreed by all parties, but do not want to admit their part in practices which need to be reformed. They want to operate to a grossly hypocritical tactic of talking about accountability for the past of every party except those that make up the Government.
Deputy Lowry was fully entitled to be heard by the tribunal and to expect the Dáil to acknowledge this fully. This was done for 14 years. The publication of this report fundamentally changes the position. The request that we wait to hear all the evidence no longer holds. He has indicated that he will do nothing other than launch more attacks on Mr. Justice Moriarty and the entire Judiciary. For our part, we believe the key findings of the report.
We, therefore, believe that Deputy Lowry should consider his position and resign from Dáil Éireann. If he chooses not to do so we will propose a motion expressing the will of the Dáil on this matter. This was done before in the case of the late Liam Lawlor and while the all-party motion did not cause his resignation, it did mark an important public statement of standards by this House. I have instructed the Fianna Fáil Whip to make contact with his counterparts with a view to bringing forward an agreed motion in Government time which will call on Deputy Lowry to voluntarily resign his membership of Dáil Éireann. I would expect and urge the co-operation of every Member of this House in the speedy resolution of this motion.
We will also continue to seek a forum where real questions can be asked of the Ministers who allowed the awarding of the largest State licence in our history to be completed in direct contravention of the guidelines they themselves agreed. The Moriarty report is lengthy, detailed and subject to unprecedented attempts to misrepresent its contents. It falls to us all as Members of Dáil Éireann to stand against this campaign and show that we are capable of acknowledging and addressing serious failings when they arise. Only then will our collective and individual promises of change be realised.
An Ceann Comhairle: Before calling on Deputy Adams I wish to state that it is a long-standing ruling of my predecessors that it is disorderly to attempt to involve the Chair in issues of the day before the House. Moreover, as Deputy Martin will be aware, the Ceann Comhairle cannot defend himself or herself but must remain neutral as the presiding Member in the Chair.  Deputy Martin referred to me in his statement as being present at a meeting in New York. I wish to state I was not present at any meeting in New York. In fact, I know nothing about such a meeting.
Deputy Gerry Adams: I am a bit conflicted by this debate. I scanned the report, read the executive summary, wrote up notes, was briefed and took advice on it. I came into the House with a speech and then I heard the Taoiseach’s remarks. It is a bit strange for people like me to come into the House and try to make sense of all of this. I believe in politics as a public service. I believe in republicanism. I served in the Assembly outside Belfast. There was none of the imagery of this institution on show.
I look at the bust of James Connolly behind me. I think of Pearse and the 1916 Proclamation. I think of Countess Markievicz, the first woman elected as Minister for Labour who died in a poor hospital. I then listen to what is being said here. The Fine Gael manifesto refers to golden circles, crony Government and crony capitalism. The Taoiseach talked about a full and substantive debate. This is not a full and substantive debate. This is a series of statements
I have no interest in Deputy Lowry. I accept the report. I do not know the man; I have never spoken to him. We should deal with him because the report was commissioned by the Dáil, incidentally not because someone wanted to sort the issue out. I am a newcomer. The Taoiseach has been here for, I understand, 36 years and knows everything that needs to be known about this institution.
The tribunal was set up because a well-known businessman went on the tear in Florida. In almost every instance when something gets into the public arena, the politicians have played catch up to try to deal with it. The section of the Fine Gael manifesto dealing with reform states: “In any Republic the people are supposed to be supreme. Judged by that standard Ireland today is a Republic in name only.” They are the words of Fine Gael, not mine, and when I said this in the course of the election all sorts of commentators jumped all over me.
Here we are today. I am not naive. I learned my politics on the streets and in terms of campaigns, when I say I believe in republicanism, republicanism places citizens at the centre. The citizen is in charge — an phoblacht, an pobal. It is about rights, equality and treating everyone properly and decently.
I was surprised when this report was published that it was business as usual here under this new regime given all I had read about, and seen and watched previously from the Visitors Gallery etc. I and other Sinn Féin Deputies sought time to debate this report, which was being debated the length and breadth of the country. When I say “the country”, I mean the island. It is hard for me to get used to people speaking of “the nation.” It does not stop at the Border. It is the entire nation and, as my friend Mr. Barry McElduff MLA would say, its offshore islands.
While this was being debated everywhere else the Government refused to allow it to be debated here. Then the Taoiseach’s response to reasonable questions from me about the behaviour of Fine Gael, not my view but as outlined in the report, was to jibe about the Northern Bank robbery. It is fair enough if that is the way he wants to go with this, but it was hardly a mature or statesman-like response. I was disappointed in it because I always found the Taoiseach on a personal basis to be fair and decent.
If we are to have a debate about these issues, what we say rhetorically about bringing in a new era and rebuilding the republic, then let us deal with the issues in an up-front, friendly, fraternal but straightforward way.
That we are not having a proper debate today flies in the face of Government protestations that it is a Government of reform and it highlights the imperative of business in this Chamber to be conducted in a different way. There is no motion. We will talk our way through all of this, we will say what we say about it and sin é; the Government may or may not at some point bring in some measures. Sinn Féin is prepared to work with the Government because we believe, not in this Government, not even in Sinn Féin, but in a genuine republic on the island of Ireland. The Government has made some commitments in this direction.
In my view, the first challenge facing the Government in dealing with this report shows that it fell at the first hurdle. I accept that it was dropped on the Government and as far as I know, it did not have notice of the report. I do not make any judgment on any of that at all. Then there is the issue of tribunals. Sinn Féin supports the notion of tribunals although we do not support the notion of it taking 14 years and all the millions that were spent on it, etc. There are cases where one must have an investigation into some issues, but we cannot get investigations into other issues. Since I became a Teachta Dála, I have met citizens, such as women who were butchered in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital who cannot get an investigation into that, and others up and down the country who are trying to get ones. The people in this city who are living in slums, on Dominick Street, out the back of my party’s head office, at Croke Villas, cannot get any sort of justice in terms of what they deserve as citizens.
If one wants an answer as to why there is a lack of confidence in the political system, it seems — this is a cliché— there is one law for the rich and one law for the poor. If one is part of the golden circle, one gets a tribunal. Where is the tribunal for the social offender? If someone is in poverty or falls into some offence — this is not to accept any wrongdoing — he or she gets hauled in and put through due process. What if one is a political activist? For instance, six of the Shell to Sea people are locked up for six months for trying to defend their communities after a corrupt decision by a Government that gave away natural resources. These law-abiding family men from the Taoiseach’s county ended up in prison.
Where is the tribunal for the poor? The Taoiseach is well known; I still walk the streets. People who are trying to recover from drug addiction come to me. More people died from drug addiction in this capital city within the echo of the GPO than were killed at the height of the Troubles in similar neighbourhoods in the Six Counties. Why did it happen and why was it tolerated, and why did people have to fall back and defend themselves?
The report further states, “Of equal significance were donations made to Fianna Fáil in the context of the 1989 General Election by Custom House Docks Development Company, and by Dr. Michael Smurfit.”, and it goes on to detail all of that.
Sin é, that is the report. There is a series of reports gathering dust somewhere else. The Taoiseach speaks of it being a small country and a proud nation, and so we are. I am not here to preach or moralise, but we are better than this. The only way this will be sorted out is if the connection between big business, financiers and all of those elites and the political class is broken, if we put in place processes which are transparent and which serve citizens, and if we understand that society is made up of people, communities and families who are equal to everyone in this House.
I do not sit down inspired in any way that the Government will do right on all of those issues. I am open to be convinced. However, this party, Sinn Féin, will do its best within our lights to ensure, as every day we try to build a real republic on this island, that the mission statement of that republic is the Proclamation of 1916, not a manifesto of any other political party which can be turned around in the back of an election and made to mean whatever happens to be expedient at that time.
Deputy Martin Ferris: At the end of George Orwell’s Animal Farm there is a scene where the animals who thought they were being liberated discovered that they could no longer tell the difference between the old masters and those who had replaced them. Sitting here, less than half an hour ago, when Deputy Martin stated that it was not credible for us to believe that Lowry and O’Brien met and did not discuss the licence, I could not but recall when the Fianna Fáil Front Bench wanted us to believe that Cowen and the directors of Anglo Irish Bank, who met for dinner and had played golf in Druids Glen, did not discuss the banking losses.
The many people who look through the Moriarty report and reflect on its findings may find it hard to tell the difference between the main party now in power and the one sitting in reduced numbers to my left. Fine Gael spoke a lot during the election campaign about political reform and bringing an end to cronyism. It also promised to introduce legislation to ban corporate donations. However, the fact its campaign was funded by a large war chest made up of donations from corporate donors may have been seen as somewhat contradictory and ironic. The irony was not lost on Deputy Creighton, who at least had the grace to be embarrassed at the McGill summer school last year, when she criticised the fact that Fine Gael golf classics were being attended by people linked with the banking and property collapse. The fact those people were happy to pour money into Fine Gael coffers did not augur well for the future. Of course, Fine Gael could argue that these people were not being promised anything in return for their patronage. What the Moriarty report proves is that such people did, indeed, have good reason to believe that in funding Fine Gael in the past, they were buying future political influence, and perhaps more. Certainly, the luck that befell Denis O’Brien as a consequence of his generosity would indicate that their faith was not unfounded.
It is also worth mentioning that at the same time Deputy Creighton was talking about her party’s NAMA and banking friends, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, stated publicly that he was not in favour of banning corporate donations. He said he would make no apology for accepting such gifts. Has he changed his mind on that or has he, as with his chat with Denis O’Brien about mobile phone licences over dinner in October 1995, forgotten it all? Also, who were the people who funded Fine Gael’s election campaign? Unfortunately, current legislation does not allow us to discuss exactly from where all the money came, but we do know some of the donors. Among those attending the sponsored Fine Gael golf classics were Treasury Holdings and O’Flynn Construction, both major players in the NAMA debacle. Indeed, Michael O’Flynn was one of those who was consulted, on the establishment of NAMA, to sort out the mess caused by himself and his friends. He was also on record at the time as stating that he believed that the failed speculators ought to be given more of a say in how NAMA might save their bacon. I wonder whether he will be consulted by Fine Gael as part of its promised review of NAMA or was his bet on Fine Gael, like his money on the property market, a failure?
The reason the more recent donations to Fine Gael are relevant to the discussion on the Moriarty report are that they prove that nothing much has changed in the 15 year period with which the report deals. If anything, it proves that Fine Gael, like Fianna Fáil, became cleverer at hoovering up cash from corporate donors and at concealing it. The only reason we know the identity of some of those who bankrolled the successful Fine Gael election campaign is that some of them turned up and won prizes at the golf classics but the origin of the majority of the funding is a mystery because it was cleverly concealed. We know that Fine Gael received at least £110,000 from Denis O’Brien between 1995 and 2000. That does not take into account whatever money went to Deputy Lowry. During the same period, Fianna Fáil received approximately £90,000, and to cover all bets, Denis O’Brien gave approximately the same amount to the Progressive Democrats. In fairness to a former leader of Fine Gael, the current Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, decided in 2001 that Fine Gael would no longer look for or accept corporate donations. That policy was changed by his successor, the current Taoiseach and has obviously been a success, given that Fine Gael had a huge sum of money to spend in the recent election campaign. However, it raises questions with regard to Fine Gael’s stated aim to end the culture of corporate donations to political parties. If Fine Gael intends to use this debate to draw a line in the sand, it should first publish the full list of corporate donations it has received over the past number of years. That might create some confidence among citizens that Fine Gael is genuine about putting an end to the culture of the Galway tent and the cosy dinners and golf classics.
The point must be made with regard to the reason people with money fund political parties. The reason is clear from the Moriarty report as to why Denis O’Brien funded Fine Gael in the 1990s. It is also clear, despite all the denials, that he was well rewarded for his troubles. What exactly do Fine Gael’s most recent backers expect from Fine Gael? The EBS, for example, has supported Fine Gael golf classics and is one of the financial institutions that have landed us in the mess we are in. It is one of the institutions that have saddled citizens with an unpayable debt and an IMF-directed austerity programme. The only benefit I would see from any EBS executives attending golf classics is that they would be good people to bet against, given their disastrous losing streak when they engage in property gambling. It does not augur well for any Fine Gael Government to carry an IOU for such an entity, not to mention the brass neck of the EBS, which must be saved by the taxpayers, deciding to back one of the horses in the election race. Do the terms of the bailout allow for those rotten financial institutions to embroil the democratic process through the funding of political parties? This is another area the Government should look at as part of its promised reform and putting an end to the cronyism that exists.
With regard to what Fine Gael donors expect from Fine Gael, it is clear from the Moriarty report that Denis O’Brien expected and was given the inside track on the mobile phone licences. It was massively profitable to come in on the ground floor of that business in the mid-1990s. Where do people like Denis O’Brien and Fine Gael’s latest backers see the main chances now? I suggest that one of the areas in which they have a high interest is the sell-off of State assets. The Government has already committed to selling off €2 billion of so-called non-strategic assets. The likelihood is that, as in Greece, this will be only the start and that the IMF and European Union will insist on wholesale auction of State companies and assets to service the bank debt. We will have to await the appearance of the McCarthy report to see what is in store for us on that front. I suspect that one of the reasons it has not yet appeared is because the spotlight shone on Coillte by the Woodland League and others has possibly upset plans to sell off 7% of the land of the State to a company fronted by a former Fianna Fáil Taoiseach. One thing that is certain is that when the Government begins to sell off the family silver, among those at the top of the queue will be the kind of people who have bankrolled Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. That is the reason they bankrolled them and they are in prime position to move when the opportunity arises. It helps to have a friend, or several friends, in court, as Denis O’Brien well knows.
We and the people have seen, experienced and know that the political elite here, the people at the top in the two main political parties, have compromised the political system and have been compromised by big business. It is time to change all that.
Deputy Jonathan O’Brien: To many, the contents of the Moriarty report will be seen as just another confirmation that politics in this State has been corrupted by shady deals, golden circles and brown envelopes. The report shines yet another spotlight on the cosy relationship between big business and politics. What it reveals is not pretty, even if predictable. In recent days, the findings of the tribunal have been partially obscured under a torrent of misinformation and deliberate distraction and spin, much of it emanating from Deputy Lowry and Denis O’Brien. Let us remind ourselves of the issue. In 1996, the State awarded its second mobile phone licence to a consortium led by Esat-Digifone, a company chaired by Denis O’Brien. At the time, this was an incredibly valuable State asset, seen by many as literally a licence to print money. Within four years, the licence was sold for a profit of €250 million.
The findings of the tribunal are that during the period of competition for the mobile phone licence and subsequent licensing negotiations, from March 1995 to June 1996, Denis O’Brien’s companies supported 14 Fine Gael fundraising events. In the same period, Denis O’Brien made a further £50,000 donation to Fine Gael through his partner company Telenor. In the course of the competition and negotiations, the then Minister with responsibility for communications, Deputy Michael Lowry, passed vital information about the licensing process to Mr. O’Brien and used his influence to slant the awards process in favour of Esat Digifone. Within months of the contract being signed with Esat, a six figure sum was transferred from Denis O’Brien to Deputy Lowry through a series of offshore accounts.
The tribunal and its findings have been the subject of a sustained media campaign by Deputy Lowry and Denis O’Brien to point out what in their analysis is the opinionated finding of one man. That will come as no surprise to people outside this Chamber. These are wealthy and powerful men who stand accused of grave wrongdoing. It is not hard to understand why they would deny the charges of political and financial corruption levelled at them by this report. It is much harder to understand why Mr. Justice Moriarty, a reputable judge who has presided over an exhaustive investigation of this matter, would make findings against them without good reason. The Moriarty report has been 14 years in preparation. It is a detailed and lengthy document based on substantial evidence and statements by former Ministers and numerous civil servants. I see no reason we should believe the assertions of Denis O’Brien and Deputy Lowry over those of Mr. Justice Moriarty. Deputy Lowry will get his opportunity to explain the dealings outlined in the Moriarty report later this evening. Following that, the people of this country will make up their minds on who is more credible.
Having said all that, it is important that we do not let ourselves become distracted from the main issue here. At a time when one of our nation’s most valuable assets was being sold, a senior member of Fine Gael, its chief fund-raiser, the then Minister with responsibility for communications in a Fine Gael-led Government, stands accused of manipulating the award of said asset, which resulted in personal financial gain. As Deputy Ferris pointed out, Fine Gael wants once again to sell off State assets, which is surely a case of déjà vu.
Fine Gael accepted more than a dozen donations from Mr Denis O’Brien and his companies during the period when they were competing for the mobile phone licence. We are talking about a Government Minister enabling a clique of businessmen to enrich themselves massively at the expense of the Irish people. We are talking about the rotten relationship between Irish business and Irish politics; a relationship whose fruits we are seeing today in NAMA, the bank guarantee scheme and the IMF bailout.
Perhaps the most shocking thing about this report is how little the people are shocked. They have seen it all before. Many outside this Chamber suspect we may be here again. In the eyes of many people, Deputy Lowry has taken his place in the rogues’ gallery that is already well populated with household names. His mugshot hangs there alongside those of Charles Haughey, Ray Burke, Liam Lawlor and Bertie Ahern. While the public has become accustomed to allegations of undercover payments and dodgy dealings by politicians of the establishment, its attitude has turned from outrage to cynicism.
Politics should be an honourable profession. To represent the Irish people and to be entrusted to take critical decisions about the future of our country should be a proud task and one that should be undertaken with humility, with honesty and with a determination to put the national interest first at all times. Unfortunately, a substantial number of senior politicians saw it otherwise. They saw it as a chance to profit from public office. This is a tragedy not just for Ireland, but for the many decent and honest politicians of all parties who do their best to serve the people who elect them. It is bad for our democracy and it is bad for our country. It erodes people’s trust in our institutions, and it makes capable people more reluctant to serve in politics.
The Moriarty report should be taken as a clarion call to make politics honourable again. It should become an historical turning point; the moment when we committed ourselves, as a nation, to root out corruption once and for all, and the moment when we began a comprehensive reform of our political system. We cannot afford to brush it under the carpet. We cannot afford to dismiss it as yesterday’s news. The corrupt nexus of business and politics it has uncovered remains in place. There will be more Michael Lowrys, Ray Burkes and Bertie Aherns and more tribunals in future if the Government does not act on the report’s findings.
What must be done? People must be held accountable and those with questions to answer — including the Taoiseach — should answer them. There should be no more hiding behind political rhetoric. The Government should move immediately to ban corporate donations and the requirement that only donations over a certain limit need to be declared should be done away with. The Minister for Justice and Law Reform needs to bring forward new legislation on political corruption and white collar crime as a matter of urgency. Stiffer limits should be imposed on spending in elections. The culture of political expenses and ministerial perks must be reformed, and the structural reform of the political system needs to take place.
This House needs to be able to hold the Government properly to account, but we need to go deeper than this. We need to change the culture of Irish politics. The blatant corruption uncovered by the Moriarty report is only the tip of the iceberg. Brown envelopes and offshore accounts feed into a wider culture of political deference to business. Political corruption is not a victimless crime. When powerful businessmen are able to subvert the political process in their own interest, the public interest suffers and real people pay the price. We see the consequences of this in the current economic crisis which has effectively bankrupted this State. We have seen what happens when we run our country according to the calculations scribbled on the back of a brown envelope. Our political system is broken; not just because it is open to corruption, but because it has brought the country to the brink of ruin.
We need to end this political homage to big business. We need to end the culture of favours that has grown out of it. Political decisions must be made openly and transparently. Every Irish citizen must be able to participate in making them. We need a culture of openness, a culture of civic duty, and a culture of patriotism. In essence, we need a culture of real republicanism.
The findings of the Moriarty tribunal are very disturbing. These findings are that there was inappropriate political interference and the process through which the licence was awarded was grossly deficient, that the Government of the day acted with gross impropriety and the rules of competition were broken in evaluating the bids. However, the central contention of both Denis O’Brien and Deputy Michael Lowry is that the award of the mobile phone licence was above board, that the report is ultimately the opinion of the chairman and has no basis in law, and that it was the most expensive comic ever produced. Where exactly is the truth?
What I find alarming is that when the suggestion of wrongdoing was made all those years ago, the tribunal route was chosen, knowing that if anything illegal was established, charges could not be brought. It reminds me of the beef tribunal, which cost millions and which resulted in the arrest only of a journalist in its aftermath. This propensity to set up a tribunal with all its intricacies, instead of using the appropriate authorities, baffles me. It seems to be an elaborate ruse to prevent accountability and transparency. The beef tribunal established links between business and politics; links that continue to thrive and that must be broken. Otherwise, we will continue to be a grubby, corrupt country.
Another disquieting issue is that of public procurement. Why was there not an open, transparent auction to the highest bidder? It led to the licence being given at a fraction of what it was worth and there is still no satisfactory explanation of that fact. I find it extremely alarming that the leading businessmen mentioned in the report moved residency to other countries to avoid paying just taxes in their own country.
The cost of the tribunal is also extremely alarming. It may exceed €250 million and its 14 year timespan was partly due to the misleading testimony given to the tribunal. After 14 years, there still appear to be more questions than answers, as the song goes. The report of the Moriarty tribunal recommends wide-ranging changes in the way politics is funded. Various suggestions have been made regarding audits, tax relief and rules about disclosure. Do we seriously think they will work? There is a simple solution — no political donations, either personal or corporate, should be allowed. Plenty of charities could do with extra funding.
When 129 Members of the Dáil were surveyed last November, two thirds of them said they had no confidence in the Moriarty tribunal. Therefore, I request that no more tribunals be established. These matters should be dealt with by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Garda Síochána or the Criminal Assets Bureau, as appropriate. The bureau has greater powers of search and seizure, including the power to freeze bank accounts and seize property. Although it can read this report, it cannot use it as a basis for evidence. It will have to start gathering evidence and re-interviewing witnesses.
The media has been robust and fair in its reports on someone who is the largest shareholder and owner of a media outlet. Many workers in the media depend on him for their living. Questions need to be asked about the roles of the Civil Service and the Danish consultant, Professor Andersen, in this process. Professor Andersen has said that the tribunal’s conclusions have no factual basis. He has made the point that its findings are not consistent with the evidence given by civil servants. Who is telling the truth? Reputations are being damaged. Either Denis O’Brien and Deputy Lowry have had their reputations damaged by Mr. Justice Moriarty, or Mr. Justice Moriarty has had his professional and personal reputation damaged by Deputy Lowry and Mr. O’Brien.
The Taoiseach’s fine words will only be given credence when there is an actual outcome. Irish people cannot afford these expensive processes and false promises at a time when families are suffering as a result of cuts and negative equity, small businesses are failing and bonus-paying banks are continuing to be bailed out. The country voted for a change in leadership and in government. The people do not just want a change in dealership from one clique to another — they want actual outcomes so that trust in our political system can be restored. They did not want the most obvious outcome of the tribunal, which is that certain lawyers have made a lot of money. It is important that the truth be established and, when wrong has been done, that it be punished.
Deputy John Halligan: In recent days, I have found it absolutely nauseating to have had to listen to representatives of Fianna Fáil, which is involved in a so-called rehabilitation and is supposedly on the road to Damascus.
Deputy John Halligan: On the basis of the past record of Fianna Fáil, I do not doubt that it will face another day of reckoning when the Mahon tribunal issues its report in the coming weeks or months. The image of this country, externally and internally, has been damaged and tarnished once again. Whether we like it or not, the public perception is that if one is a multi-millionaire, one can use one’s money to influence politicians and political parties. That is how I see what is happening. I have no doubt in my mind about it.
If nothing comes from this inquiry, it will be disastrous for the well-being of Irish society. That might well happen. I was glad to hear the Taoiseach say there could be other investigations outside this inquiry. It is sad that appropriate legislation was not put in place earlier, as we would not have needed an inquiry that became a slush fund for lawyers and barristers to make millions of euro.
When one speaks to people on the street, one hears their perceptions of these inquiries. First, people think the rich elite can get away with anything they like. Second, they think the main result of these tribunals is that those who are already rich get even richer. Third, they think nothing is being done for ordinary people whose lives are being destroyed by the policies of the last Government and the possible policies of the current Government.
It is worth revisiting the ideological decisions that were taken when this mobile phone licence was issued. Members will recall the unfortunate failure to invest substantially in Telecom Éireann at the time. Such moneys would have been well invested. We would have secured many jobs and we might have had a better service. Ideological questions need to be asked about the policy of selling State assets, the results of which are clear in this instance.
I am conscious that other Deputies are keen to speak. Before I ask the Taoiseach two questions that should be answered, I want to say I believe him when he says he will do certain things. I have to believe it because he has said it. I hope he will do what he has said. If he does, he will have my support. I am not here today to criticise him. I listened carefully to what he said. I hope he will implement his proposals. If he does, it will be for the betterment of this country.
I will conclude by asking two questions. First, will the Taoiseach consider releasing all the Cabinet papers of relevance to the awarding of this licence? Perhaps that has been done already. I suggest that records of all Cabinet discussions of the time should be released. Second, did the former Taoiseach, John Bruton, have any concerns about the issuing of the licence? Did any member of the then Cabinet, or anyone from an outside body, come to Mr. Bruton to raise such concerns? I would like those two questions to be answered in the Dáil at some stage tonight or tomorrow, if possible.
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: This debate is not primarily about Deputy Lowry. Given the amount of speaking time he has been given, I find it slightly frustrating that he cannot be bothered to stay to hear what the rest of us have to say on these issues.
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: This debate is about the credibility of the entire political system, which has been battered as a result of a series of scandals which have revealed the rotten relationship between politics and big business. Like most people, I feel that the rotten relationship in question has contributed to the desperate situation in which we now find ourselves. People want to know that things have genuinely changed, that we are serious about getting to the bottom of the matter and that we intend to change that relationship. That would give real meaning to the noble aspirations enunciated by the Taoiseach in his speech.
I concur with Deputy Halligan’s assertion that when one listens to Fianna Fáil interrogating the Government about cronyism in this particular instance, one really thinks one is living in a parallel universe. That party has been the master of cronyism and cute hoor politics. It will need a substantial decontamination period before any comments it makes on this subject can be taken seriously.
I have no reason not to believe what the Moriarty report says about Deputy Lowry. It says he was guilty of tax evasion. It says he abused his position by trying to benefit Mr. Ben Dunne, from whom he received payments. It says he delivered the huge contract for the second GSM licence for Denis O’Brien, from whom he received substantial payments. For the majority of people, what most churns the stomach is the fact that the beneficiary in this case, Denis O’Brien, is a tax exile. He has not shown the country that enriched him and made him a multi-millionaire the gratitude of bothering to stay here to pay tax on what I consider to be his ill-gotten gains.
All of that is in the past, to some extent. We need to focus on the extent to which this Government is serious about making real change in this area. I have a few questions for the Taoiseach in that context. Will the Government provide the House with a list of the corporate donors to his recent election campaign? In February of this year, the Irish Daily Mail revealed that companies like Johnny Ronan’s Treasury Holdings, Cement Roadstone Holdings, the EBS and a company owned by JP McManus had made contributions to Fine Gael fund-raising events. If the election of this Government was financed by significant corporate donations from people in the golden circle, it is hard to give much credit to its promises to get rid of corporate donations. Will the Taoiseach name all of those who donated to Fine Gael’s election campaign, or the campaigns of individual Fine Gael Deputies, including those who made payments of less than the threshold amounts?
I ask the Taoiseach to state honestly if any representatives of the Government met Deputy Lowry in order to elicit the support he provided during the recent election of the Taoiseach in this Chamber. Did any meetings take place? Was any agreement reached? Were any undertakings given to Deputy Lowry with regard to what he might expect in exchange for the support he gave the Taoiseach and his Government?
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Do we not also have to address a more systemic problem in terms of selling State assets in a competitive market driven by profit? Should we not draw from the series of scandals of this nature, as well as the banking crisis and the global crisis, the lesson that where a society and an economy driven by profit puts public assets on the market, the political system is inevitably corrupted?
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Is that not the issue we have to address? The last thing we should do is sell State assets to pay off the bad gambling debts of speculators and developers, as is proposed in the programme for Government.
Deputy Mick Wallace: Mr. Justice Moriarty is a High Court judge who was appointed to chair the Tribunal of Inquiry into Payments to Politicians and Related Matters. To find out what a judge is supposed to stand for I referred to the Constitution, which requires him or her to state the following:
I was somewhat taken aback at the manner in which Mr. Justice Moriarty and the Judiciary have been called into question. This is a dangerous road to follow. The Judiciary in Ireland is an independent and fair system. It may not get all the answers right but it is worthy of our respect. If we are not going to respect its decisions, what are we going to do? It would not stack up anymore. The core of any democracy has to be respect for what a judge decides or has to say. It is not good for us that people with influence, whether political or financial, are able to challenge the legal system with such brazenness. It is something we have to think about. I am surprised that the Government is not more outraged about this matter. We should be angry this is happening. It must seem to the ordinary people there is one rule for them and another for the people who have influence. Is this the way it is supposed to be? Is this how it will stay?
We heard a great deal about change during the election campaign, which was my first. As I travelled around to listen to people I observed an appetite for change. Fine Gael and the Labour Party have promised significant change but I am taken aback they are not more outraged. I am disappointed the Chamber is not full. The Moriarty tribunal and its report have serious implications for our society. Does it not matter enough?
Deputy Mick Wallace: If they are serious about making this Parliament work in the manner it should or organising our society properly, can they show a bit more interest? Can they be here? We have a huge responsibility. The people put us here. They expect us to run this country in an honest fashion, to make honest decisions and to care. We have to forgive them for thinking we do not care. This is an opportunity to show that perhaps things can change.
The Taoiseach promised a number of reforms and it will be great if he is able to implement them. He referred specifically to donations. If someone wants to give €100 to a politician running for election, we should know who he or she is. People who pay pipers call tunes. Through money, businesses big and small can separate the electorate from the Legislature. Money comes between them. This is not good and we should stop it completely rather than introduce half measures such as bringing it down to this or that limit. Let us do away with the practice completely. It is not the way to run a proper democracy. Perhaps I am naive or too idealistic but I believe things can be different.
Deputy Tom Fleming: In the 25,000 words of the Moriarty report, Mr. Justice Moriarty used strenuous language. Are these 25,000 words a load of garbage? I believe Deputy Lowry has serious questions to answer. The report is either a load of garbage or it is a serious document which sets out an appalling vista. In the interest of democracy, Deputy Lowry should resign if he cannot answer these questions in the Dáil because his position in this Parliament would be untenable. This Parliament must also decide whether he has serious questions to answer. In the recent past this country has experienced an avalanche of scandals. Internationally, our reputation is in tatters and as a nation we were probably never held in lower esteem worldwide. It is time to finally clean up our act and restore our credibility as a nation. We must start in this House.
Deputy Joan Collins: If we are to believe the version of events put forward by Deputy Lowry and others in the media, an incredible number of coincidences have occurred. Let us look at one such set of coincidences. The £147,000 which Mr. Justice Moriarty believes was a payment to Deputy Lowry from Denis O’Brien was routed through offshore accounts to keep it from public view. We are asked to believe all the following events are completely unrelated. Denis O’Brien has his accountant, Aidan Phelan, open an account in the Isle of Man in the name of Mr. Phelan. A sum of £150,000 is then paid from this account into an account in the Isle of Man controlled by the late David Austin, a Fine Gael fund-raiser and friend of Deputy Lowry. In a completely unrelated coincidence, Deputy Lowry opened an account in the Isle of Man into which £147,000 is paid from the Austin account. Strangely, £147,000 is transferred back into the Austin account on the day the McCracken tribunal began its investigation into the award of the Esat licence.
I am with the learned judge on this. There are too many coincidences involving people bumping into each other in Croke Park, property deals in Britain involving the same names and the late involvement of Dermot Desmond in the Esat bid. The only conclusion I can come to is that of Mr. Justice Moriarty, namely, that the awarding of this lucrative contract was corrupted by a senior Minister in the Fine Gael-Labour Party-Democratic Left coalition Government of the 1990s, in which nine members of the present Cabinet served as Ministers.
My colleagues have noted the seriousness of this matter. It is no good to indulge in hand wringing and tut-tutting, polite requests for Deputy Lowry to resign and promises of change if we go back to the business as usual of tents, golf classics and private fund-raising dinners.
This is the very process that corrupts democracy by allowing big business and wealthy interests to buy influence and obtain a so-called business-friendly environment — in other words, the light regulation and lower taxes on wealth and profit that were key factors in creating the present economic crisis. It is not just a case of a few bad apples. The system which allows and encourages corporate donations to parties and individuals, while it may be legal, is corrupting the political process itself. This is recognised in the many promises to ban corporate donations. To my knowledge, €12 million was spent by political parties in the 2007 election, most of it by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, and only €2 million was registered as declared donations under the Standards in Public Office Act. This is much too loose and we cannot tolerate it as a nation.
Deputy Wallace made the point that money comes between democracy and abuse. It is also a fact that the promise of future money comes between democracy and abuse. The former Deputy Bertie Ahern, who led the charge of the corrupt brigade, now has cosy positions in the likes of the International Forestry Fund, which is interested in buying Coillte, one of our precious national assets, although I know the people of this country will fight tooth and nail to stop that from happening.
I will reiterate a point made by Deputy Boyd Barrett. We need a list of all donations given to Fine Gael or any other party in the last election. We need action now, not promises. We need an effective ban on donations, a register of lobbyists, and published annual accounts by all parties represented in the Dáil.
Deputy Michael Lowry: I have three simple messages that I would like to leave with all Members of this House. The first is that I did not engage in any wrongdoing with regard to the awarding of the second mobile licence. That is a fact which is substantiated by every witness who gave evidence to the tribunal over a long period. The second point is that I received no payments from Denis O’Brien with regard to the second mobile licence. Not a single witness before the tribunal gave evidence that I did receive a payment. The third is that Mr. Justice Moriarty has created a false impression in his report that I was a net beneficiary of approximately £900,000 sterling arising from two property transactions and a loan agreement. This is not a truthful or accurate presentation of the facts. Absolutely no money accrued to me from the transactions referred to in his report. The trail of documentation, both legal and accounting, confirms the validity of that statement.
As everyone in this country is aware, my financial affairs, both personal and business, were the subject of intense scrutiny and investigation by the Revenue Commissioners. Last Friday, I contacted my professional advisers, and they reconfirmed to me that the three transactions referred to in the Moriarty report were covered under the period of investigation by the Revenue Commissioners. The Revenue Commissioners accepted that I had no income from these transactions and therefore I had no tax liability attached. It is extraordinary, therefore, that Mr. Justice Moriarty can give such a misleading impression to the Irish public. These are the three simple messages. That is the truth, and those are the facts.
Let me return to a number of issues that have been raised. Sixteen years ago I became the subject of investigation by the institutions of this State. I first went through the Buchanan inquiry. I was then passed on to the McCracken inquiry. Then I was the subject of an extensive investigation conducted by Mr. Appleby, who was the Director of Corporate Enforcement at the time. Then there was the prolonged investigation by the Revenue Commissioners, and I finished up for 14 years with the Moriarty tribunal. Constantly, every day for 16 years, I have been investigated by some institution of the State.
When this issue arose 16 years ago, I accepted responsibility and admitted mistakes in the manner in which I had conducted business with Ben Dunne. I took responsibility for that. I made a voluntary declaration and I went to the Revenue Commissioners and settled my affairs. As an individual, my total liability was €60,000, and my company had a further liability. Rather than passing the blame to somebody for the unorthodox way in which Ben Dunne did business, I settled my affairs. In settling those affairs, I paid in the region of €900,000 in penalties and interest on a bill of approximately €400,000. I remortgaged my house to fulfil my commitments and I paid what was owed. Like any other taxpayer, I settled my affairs and I expected to be able to walk on and leave that behind me. However, it has not happened that way.
Now that the Moriarty tribunal has concluded, I am again under further investigation by the Criminal Assets Bureau. I want to make one thing clear: you can send in the CAB, you can send in the Army, you can send in whom you like to investigate my affairs after all of these investigations, but no £900,000 will be found, because it was never there and it is not there.
The media have been gleeful in their anticipation that I might go to jail because I broke a tax amnesty. Every transaction I have ever had has been the subject of inquiry and investigation, and to facilitate the Revenue Commissioners in that investigation, I made my voluntary disclosure available to it. The amnesty, and my dealings with the Revenue Commissioners, were all open and on the table. It was in the context of the amnesty that my full and final settlement was made with the Revenue Commissioners in June 2007.
This House established the Moriarty tribunal 14 years ago. That has been, for me, 14 years of intrusion, examination, scrutiny, interference, stress and vilification. No trial has ever lasted so long with so little fact or truth to justify its existence. The Moriarty tribunal has become a monster of extraordinary proportions, feeding off itself and costing this State a fortune. For an inquiry to go on for 14 years in a democratic society is absurd. Yet here I stand, 14 years on, nonetheless accused. There is no evidence to support the report’s findings. Every witness questioned was absolutely clear that I did not influence the outcome of the mobile phone licence award in any way. Why was Mr. Justice Moriarty unwilling to believe or accept those testimonies from so many people under oath? Why is the tribunal happy to fabricate and invent the content of a conversation between me and Denis O’Brien in 1995 that never happened? Both of us confirmed that it never happened and nobody else was present to confirm otherwise. What is the legal basis or justification for such outrageous assumptions and findings?
This comment puts the entire tribunal travesty into a perfect context. It was not about evidence, but assumptions; it was not about truth, but self-justification and media soundbites; it was not about legal jurisprudence, but witch-hunting and scapegoating. The tribunal was driven by forces and syndicates in this country whose vested interests, ambitions and greed were thwarted by a perfectly legitimate licence application procedure. During the prolonged inquiry, rumour and innuendo suddenly became fact, guilt by association became the norm, and any association between the parties involved became proof that something sinister was going on.
Michael Moriarty took his terms of reference from this House and converted them into an open-ended mandate without restraint. He has pursued this open-ended agenda with an unlimited budget and zero accountability to this House for the past 14 years. The ultimate outcome of this process is a report filled with intemperate language, one which is professionally inappropriate, has no evidentiary framework or merit and makes claims that would not stand up to scrutiny in the local pub, let alone an esteemed courtroom.
I have served as a Deputy for Tipperary North for 24 years and lived with this tribunal animal for 14. Not a single day passed when this tribunal did not negatively impact on my personal or professional life in some way or another. This slow Chinese torture has taken an enormous toll on me in every respect. This House established the tribunal. I believe I am entitled at least to a right of reply. I owe that to myself and my family.
Mr. Michael Moriarty has been proved wrong on several occasions and he is grievously wrong with the opinions he reported to the House last week. Members would do well to remember that thousands of court cases are successfully appealed, mainly because judges do get it wrong. They get it wrong, despite the fact that both civil and criminal trials are subject to strict rules of evidence. It is precisely because of these tested rules of evidence that the ultimate decisions of the court are respected, not because of the personality of the judge involved.
My position was completely vindicated by all of the sworn evidence given before the tribunal by dozens of witnesses during the years. Not one single person went into Dublin Castle to give sworn evidence that I had interfered in any way with the awarding of the second mobile phone licence. It was, in fact, the opposite. Not one single person went before the tribunal to claim I had received money from Denis O’Brien. No one gave evidence to the Moriarty tribunal in support of what is contained in its final report. Today we are debating the opinion of one man, not facts or evidence-based conclusions. No Member can forget that basic principle. The report is not based on evidence, but is the opinion of the tribunal’s chairman.
The only parties involved in this entire process who disputed my principal positions were Michael Moriarty, his team of multimillionaire lawyers and certain members of the losing applicants in the licence process. These are the very same individuals who have been doing an enormous amount of crowing in the media in the past week. Members must not forget that the stated goal and ambition of these parties is to sue the State for the highest possible amount of damages. Since 1995, they have sat back and let the tribunal, paid from State funds, to do all of the legwork in preparing damages actions against the State. It is bewildering. In 1996 I invited Persona to contest the licence decision before the courts. It, or any other losing applicant, will not succeed in its objective for compensation because there is no evidence to support a successful court challenge.
I always understood a tribunal was duty bound to reach conclusions based only on the sworn evidence provided for it in public sessions. Mr. Moriarty himself said he would do so in a ruling delivered in 1999. How then has it happened that he has reached these primary conclusions in his report when he did not obtain a single witness to support his theory of events in either the licence process or in respect of alleged payments to me? It is impossible to reconcile this obligation to report only on evidence heard in public with what is contained in his final report. What was reported was simply not based on evidence. Somewhere along the line, this duty to report only on evidence was cast to one side. I was alarmed to learn in 2006 that Mr. Moriarty would not actually be making findings of fact, that rather he would be reporting based on “reasonably informed expressions of opinion”. Would the Oireachtas have set up a tribunal costing tens of millions of euro to make findings of fact if it knew that nine years later the tribunal would announce it was only making a report based on opinions?
I challenge any Member of this House to find me an extract from the actual evidence given to the tribunal in the past decade which supports the view that I either interfered in the licence process or that I received money from Denis O’Brien. There are years of transcripts from which to work. If Members of this House wish to lazily parrot the words from the tribunal’s report, as some have already done this evening, to secure some perceived political points, there is little I can do to stop them. Perhaps some of them could just dig a little deeper and see if there is evidence to back up these findings.
Less than four months ago The Sunday Tribune published the results of a comprehensive poll conducted among 129 sitting Deputies and Senators in which they were asked the simple question if they had confidence in the Moriarty tribunal. More than two thirds of those polled said, “No”; only one in five answered, “Yes”. As part of its front page piece, the newspaper stated, “The lack of confidence in the tribunal was not confined to any particular party or specifically to either the Dáil or Seanad, with the dissent spread between the two houses and across the political spectrum.” During the years many Members have gone on record openly criticising the operations of the Moriarty tribunal.
There has been much commentary in recent days and again tonight about attacks on the Judiciary and statements made about the deplorable nature of persons seeking to defend themselves against the damaging personalised opinions emanating from the Moriarty tribunal. I remind the House that the chairman of a tribunal does not sit as a High Court judge or as a member of the Judiciary. There is absolutely no requirement that the sole member of a tribunal needs to be a judge. It would be far better if these roles were never again confused in this way. Most of the time when it suits them, tribunals gladly take the position that they are not courts, yet they wish to avail of the cloak of protection of the Judiciary when justified criticism is aimed in their direction. Tribunals, particularly the Moriarty tribunal, do not provide any of the protections or standards to which a citizen would be entitled as a matter of right in a court of law.
It was the Moriarty tribunal that introduced the desperately low standard of the reasonably informed expression of opinion as the basis upon which it would arrive at its conclusions. Members need to give very serious consideration to whether this is an acceptable standard to be employed in such a serious process with such far-reaching consequences. Is it fair that career civil servants have had their personal and professional reputations shredded based on opinion where there is no evidence? This is what the Moriarty tribunal has done. Do these civil servants not deserve better?
One of the greatest flaws in the modern tribunal system is that while it looks like a court and has all the appearances, airs and graces of one, it provides the accused with absolutely none of the protections provided in a court. Neither is it obliged to follow the standards of law which are sacrosanct in a court or the rules of evidence or the procedures of a court. Mr. Moriarty speaks in innocuous tones of “relaxing” the rules of evidence. In my case, Mr. Moriarty threw the rules of evidence out the window. A tribunal is no more than a prosecution show trial that gets to operate without any of the checks and balances that are properly embedded in any respectable democratic court process. That is what makes a modern day Irish tribunal of inquiry such a dangerous animal and something that is nigh on impossible for citizens to properly defend themselves against.
I say to this Chamber without fear or hesitation that the chairman of this tribunal did not act with the detached independence one would properly expect. He assumed the role of judge, jury, prosecutor and executioner all rolled into one. Is there any other legal process in the world where the prosecution team would work privately with the judge, eat with the judge and share an office with the judge for 14 years? If that relationship happened in any other legal process, it would collapse in a deluge of controversy.
In the Irish world of tribunals, the prosecution team and the judge go to work together and do so as close friends and colleagues for 14 years. We seem to have become immune to this incredible proposition. There are many legal people in this Chamber. There has been no commentary on it. I cannot recall a single instance in the past 14 years when any objection to the approach of tribunal counsel was accepted by the tribunal chairman. How would Members feel if they were to walk into a court tomorrow as a defendant to find that the prosecutor worked in the same office as the judge, discussed the case openly with him, and that they co-operated to prepare questions for the defendants? It seems crazy but this is what happened for the past 14 years at this tribunal.
The Moriarty tribunal is noteworthy for its extraordinary wide range of scathing attacks on the reputations and characters of an enormous amount of individuals in Ireland and abroad from all walks of life. It seems that anyone who looked sideways at this tribunal over the past decade received withering criticism in the final report. Dozens and dozens of people get it right between the eyes in scornful and personalised comment in the tribunal’s 2,000 pages. Anyone who gave evidence to this tribunal that conflicted with the case being put forward by the tribunal was attacked in this report. However, the tribunal’s sensitivity is incredible in terms of any perceived criticism levelled against the chairman or any member of his legal team. The tribunal report devotes entire sections in its report to defending the honour and integrity of its team while shredding the reputations of others on a wholesale basis. If Mr. Moriarty is entitled to be protected or insulated as a member of the Judiciary, then he ought to have applied the standards and principles that go with that high office. His tribunal was not an inquiry; it was a show trial where he and his legal team decided what evidence would be heard and how it would presented to the public. The amount of evidence and information that was withheld and concealed by the tribunal was astonishing. There is absolutely no doubt that if the Moriarty tribunal was a criminal process, it would have collapsed under the weight of its own impropriety many years ago.
The rejection of the absolutely overwhelming body of evidence given in public sittings is the real story of this tribunal. I am not aware of any other legal process, in Ireland or elsewhere, where a judge could base his conclusions not on the evidence he heard before him under oath, but on a theory or opinion of events that he and his lawyers constructed. Indeed, when the first theory on the licence process was blown out of the water by the forced calling of additional evidence, the tribunal just went back to the drawing board and created a freshly minted theory that it refused to share with any of us involved in the process in the form of new provisional findings.
The basic summary of the Moriarty tribunal is that Mr. Moriarty refused to accept any of the evidence heard but went on with his preferred story of how certain things happened 15 to 20 years ago. It tells a great story and he does not spare the verbose dramatic flourishes, but one has to scratch just a little beneath the surface to see the gaping cracks in the theory as put forward in these opinions.
In this context, I am fully entitled to voice my concerns about this flawed process in the House today. I have taken the slings and arrows for 15 years with very little at my disposal to defend myself. The lawyers for the tribunal cashed cheques for over €50,000 a month, every month of every year for 14 years. They were handed this money to prepare and hone their attacks on me and others, yet I was left to fend for myself as a private citizen without State support. The chairman of this tribunal, who did not sit as a member of the Judiciary, should not be cocooned away from questioning or critical appraisal.
The current Taoiseach repeatedly questioned his predecessor during his time as Leader of the Opposition in a manner that could only be described as giving voice to real, serious concerns about the Moriarty tribunal and its activities. The Taoiseach was joined by the leader of the Labour Party, now the Tánaiste, Deputy Eamon Gilmore and the then leader of Sinn Féin in the Oireachtas, Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, who rowed in on numerous occasions to criticise the conduct, the time delays and other matters involved in the Moriarty tribunal. The Taoiseach was justified and correct in that questioning and criticism. As recently as May of last year, Deputy Kenny asked the then Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, the following question:
Deputy Kenny went on to state trenchantly that what he described as “two grievous errors” had been sensationally uncovered in the approach adopted by the Moriarty tribunal. Deputy Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he believed that the sole member of the tribunal was in a position to produce a credible and impartial report and whether the then Taoiseach, Mr. Cowen, could have confidence in the Moriarty tribunal in light of the disclosures forced out of the tribunal.
At that time Deputy Kenny was undoubtedly supported in that position by his party colleagues who now make up the majority of the Government benches in this House. I will answer that question for Deputy Kenny now. The tribunal did not produce a credible and impartial report. The fears expressed in this House have proven to have been very well founded. Mr. Michael Moriarty and his team of lawyers have been wrong on many occasions.
On 25 February 2008, the tribunal published a written ruling on its website dealing with a critical matter concerning information it had received from the Office of the Attorney General. Two years later, it was forced to take down that ruling and post a new ruling that said precisely the opposite to what the tribunal had been informed by the Office of the Attorney General. On 25 September 1995, the tribunal published another ruling in which it dealt with many of the matters under inquiry. This ruling was shown to have been flawed and wrong in many material respects. The tribunal pursued a line of inquiry with me in which it openly alleged that I was involved in a secret trust relating to Doncaster Rovers’ property. It transpired through questions I asked of the tribunal counsel that the tribunal had already received conclusive evidence from the entity in the UK that I had absolutely nothing to do with that in any capacity. The chairman went on to say that this was an error.
In the course of sittings, the tribunal counsel denied meeting with officials from the Office of the Attorney General in Dublin in 2002 during which critical matters were discussed. Notes were then produced showing that tribunal counsel attended this critical meeting. That was again put down to error. Dr. Peter Bacon was retained by the tribunal in 2002 to prepare reports that were used to tear apart the second mobile phone licence process and to question civil servant witnesses for years. When the secret report and the relationship between Bacon and the tribunal was uncovered, the tribunal made a humiliating climbdown and ruled five years later that Peter Bacon was not an expert in the field and that it could not rely on the contents of the report. It was wrong again. In the meantime it had interrogated officials in the Department over a five year period on the basis of the secret report in the background.
Although he was forced publicly to admit to those errors, the chairman of the Moriarty tribunal has never properly explained those “significant errors”. It is impossible to believe that they were simply errors. In the case of the involvement of the Office of the Attorney General in advising on the awarding of the licence, the impediments that were put in place by the tribunal to prevent the calling of evidence to unmask those staggering mistruths were startling. It is a matter of fact that the Moriarty tribunal repeatedly refused to call the evidence from the Office of the Attorney General and only relented at the very last minute in the face of judicial review proceedings. It was only because of the threat of judicial review proceedings that the truth on the ownership issue was allowed to emerge publicly. Mr. Moriarty was proven wrong then and he is wrong now in his findings.
It is also a fact that Michael Moriarty has never explained how it came to pass that he ignored ten letters from the Office of the Attorney General which directly contradicted the position that his tribunal had openly adopted concerning the critical ownership issue. As counsel for the State put it during a public sitting in 2009 — I was there to hear it and witness it — the Moriarty tribunal refused to engage with the “inconvenient truths” which defeated the tribunal’s theory in relation to the licence process as it then stood. However, the tribunal would, in time, get around those evidentiary roadblocks. The tribunal then went back to the drawing board and rewired its predetermined conclusion that I was guilty of wrongdoing in relation to the licence process. It is accepted that grievous errors were previously made by the tribunal. It moved away from the ownership issue because it could not be brought home to roost. What Mr. Moriarty did then was move the goalpost and last week he unleashed on the public other conclusions which are not substantiated by fact.
Despite the consistent and trenchant criticisms levelled at the approach of the Moriarty tribunal by Members of this House, Mr. Moriarty has now taken possession of an impenetrable cloak of infallibility and has been bestowed with the ability to repel any semblance of attack or criticism. As I noted in the past week, he has a shield of invincibility which means that no Member of this House can bear to even question the outcome of this report. Despite the fact that he was proven wrong on so many matters in the past why is it that Mr. Moriarty’s report on the licence process is being taken as gospel? Months ago, serious questions were raised as to his ability to produce a credible and impartial report. Now, any view falling short of 100% declaration of acceptance and support will not even be countenanced. Since last Tuesday, the Moriarty tribunal report has been accepted and trumpeted by Members of this House as though it is gospel, as though every opinion and position contained in it is impervious to criticism or even a contrary view. As I know, politics can be a very fickle pursuit. A position taken today can be abandoned for a political advantage tomorrow. The approach in this House to the Moriarty tribunal is proof of that.
A fickle approach is certainly not unique to Members of this House. I have noticed in the past week that some leading media commentators have simply refused to critically assess or question the opinions arrived at it in the tribunal’s report or to even question the means by which those opinions were arrived at. That is bizarre, considering that many of the same writers were the authors of some hugely critical analysis, particularly over the past two years. All of that is quickly forgotten. Michael Moriarty’s wrongs and failings have been cleansed. Again, it seems as though many of those in the media believe that Mr. Moriarty issued his report from some throne of infallibility and that all doubts and concerns about his approach that were widely expressed in the media were dispelled instantaneously. The same journalists who were writing about the “tribunal’s appalling vistas” or the “credibility of the tribunal being in tatters” or the “beleaguered tribunal admitting significant errors” now present their articles as though the opinions of the tribunal are sacrosanct and that to express even the slightest doubt or concern would be sacrilegious.
The ferocity and personalised nature of Michael Moriarty’s condemnation serves to conceal the threadbare nature of his conclusions. The very least that one would expect from a team of lawyers that shared a €45 million bounty over 14 years is that they would be able to write a credible, factual and convincing report. The Moriarty tribunal’s report is nothing more than the presentation of the opinions of the prosecution. In any legal process, if one side was given the sole authority to write the judgment in the way it wanted, without interference from the other side, then of course it would read like a compelling and damning verdict to the public. That is exactly what I faced last Tuesday. The report was a completely one-sided, self-serving production designed to inflict as much damage as possible on those who opposed the tribunal while vigorously defending every step and action taken by the tribunal itself over the past decade.
This is my opportunity to say what I have to say. I do not have €45 million worth of legal advice and support. I know I will not get any glowing national and international media attention promoting my version of events. I most certainly will not get the unquestioning adulation of the Members of this House but I wish to state clearly, here and now, that the report as issued by Mr. Justice Michael Moriarty last Tuesday is not factual, it contains horrendous errors and reaches false conclusions. I do not accept the contents of this report and I never will. I make absolutely no apology for that. The Moriarty tribunal report is not some piece of unquestioned doctrine that must be followed with a slavish devotion. I know it to be wrong and I will not cower in some dark corner after being kicked from pillar to post for 14 years and refuse to call a spade a spade.
The opinions expressed in this report have inflicted enormous damage on me. Much more important than that, they have inflicted enormous damage on the credibility and integrity of a great many individuals who deserve and are entitled to much better. The number of decent people subjected to scathing, relentless attack by the Moriarty tribunal is staggering. The personalised and vindictive rhetoric found throughout the report is striking. It seems that anyone who displeased the Moriarty tribunal in any way has been maligned. Anyone who dared offer evidence or views which did not accord with the predetermined Moriarty tribunal theory has been denounced by the tribunal. The report which appeared last Tuesday was rough justice getting its finest hour. Last Tuesday was payback time, albeit of a different variety from that which the members of the previous rainbow coalition Government will certainly remember.
Members of this House should give very grave consideration to a report which calls into serious question the integrity and credibility of a large number of career civil servants. I know the civil servants impugned in this report. They are among some of the finest people that I have ever had the pleasure to encounter in my life. The treatment that they have endured, individually and collectively, at the hands of this runaway tribunal is nothing short of a national disgrace. The Members of this House, and particularly those who have had the privilege of serving in ministerial office, know only too well that the civil servants that run the public administration of this country do so to the very highest levels of personal integrity and competence. We are not short of problems in this country, but the Civil Service is something of which we can be proud. The Moriarty tribunal’s report is, among other things, an assault on the honour and integrity of the Civil Service. The Moriarty tribunal is the first body in the history of the State to call into question the reputation of the Civil Service. Where does the House stand today when the reputations of many of this country’s finest civil servants have been damned on nothing more than “opinions”? I urge the Members of this House to ask themselves if such an attack on the previously unblemished record of the Civil Service is merited. In November 2008, the Moriarty tribunal circulated what it called provisional findings; essentially it was its draft report in summary form. When I read it I was appalled. In this draft report the tribunal had found that numerous civil servants were “in thrall” to me and that, because of this, they had facilitated wrongdoing. The thrust of the tribunal’s report at that time was that I made known my preferences to the project team through some nod and a wink and it busily set about delivering the result that I wanted. According to the tribunal, the supposed wrongdoing at that time was largely carried out by the Civil Service in line with what it knew was my desired general outcome. One of the provisional findings issued to me read as follows:
Many of the other provisional findings referred to me being “facilitated” in my alleged wrongdoing by the civil servants involved. The Moriarty tribunal was clearly alleging co-operation and collusion involving the Civil Service. In God’s name, how could any Minister have the collaboration, co-operation and collusion of 17 civil servants from the Department of Finance and what was then my Department? It did not happen; it is a total nonsense.
The circulation of this draft report calling into question the role of the civil servants obviously caused consternation. Those familiar with the tribunal will be aware that the Department openly threatened the tribunal with judicial review proceedings. The tribunal was forced to call additional evidence from the Office of the Attorney General and from an eminent senior counsel, and further evidence from the Civil Service. The tribunal fought the calling of this new evidence tooth and nail. It did not want to call them or hear what they had to say.
However, when the evidence was called, it comprehensively dismantled the very basis of the tribunal’s initial theory and forced the Chairman of the tribunal into an embarrassing public declaration that he had made very significant errors. This episode, along with the later evidence of Professor Michael Andersen, tore the tribunal’s draft report completely to shreds. The blueprint that the tribunal had assembled and which it was within weeks of publishing as a final report was totally blown out of the water. Many of the journalists who have trumpeted the tribunal’s report in the past week were writing articles decrying the approach taken by the tribunal in relation to the licence process. It was widely reported by the journalists that the tribunal had failed completely to uncover any “smoking gun”. The licence inquiry was being decried as a damp squib or an appalling vista.
I, along with every other affected party, was virtually certain that in light of this additional evidence, the Moriarty tribunal’s report would deem the licence free of any form of interference. I vividly recall the defeatist body language of the tribunal’s legal team as witness after witness pummelled its theories relentlessly and left its draft report without a shred of credibility.
Professor Michael Andersen gave evidence and ran rings around our former esteemed colleague Mr. Michael McDowell, SC, for two weeks in November last year. The tribunal did not even dare to challenge the credibility or veracity of Professor Andersen’s evidence when he was in the witness box. Every theory that the tribunal had was comprehensively and decisively ripped asunder. Then the tribunal carried out the most cowardly act of all: it did not challenge him when he was in the witness box because it was simply unable or unwilling to do so. It refused and restricted questions interested parties wanted to ask him. It curtailed the time available and disallowed a whole sequence of questions that should probably have been put to Professor Andersen. It is insidious of the Chairman to reject the evidence of such a competent and professional witness in his final report.
Professor Michael Andersen is one of the world’s leading experts in mobile telecommunication competitions processes. He acted in over 120 such competitions in over 50 countries around the world before he came to Ireland in 1995. One should remember that his advice, professionalism, standards and results were never challenged in that period in those countries. He was the only expert who testified in regard to the licence competition process in Ireland, yet the approach of the tribunal is to pretend he did not exist and that his evidence did not count.
Any Member of the House who wants to establish the facts about the licence process should read the transcripts of the tribunal, in particular the evidence of the senior civil servants and by Mr. Michael Anderson, the international consultant.
Deputy Michael Lowry: This sworn statement speaks for itself. I had never met nor spoken to Professor Andersen before meeting him at Dublin Castle when he came to give evidence last November. Following this evidence, on top of the previous evidence relating to the Office of the Attorney General, it was absolutely expected that the Moriarty tribunal simply had no choice but to begrudgingly accept that there was absolutely no interference or wrongdoing in the process. I had understood this view to be generally accepted by everyone involved with the tribunal, including media personnel who closely followed events, but this is not what happened. Instead — and this is the important point — the tribunal went back to the drawing board. It rewired or re-engineered a completely new theory. It refused to inform me or any other party to the tribunal of this new theory. The first we learned of it was last Tuesday. What emerged is that the tribunal was going to damn the licence come hell or high water. The original theory fell apart — so what? It went back to the drawing board and just came up with a new theory.
It seems to me that confirming the licence process was free of interference became the real “appalling vista” for the Moriarty tribunal. I firmly believe the Moriarty tribunal simply could not stomach facing the Irish public after spending €45 million on its own lawyers and confirm that it could not bring home the prosecution of the licence process. The new theory that has been presented in its final report finds no basis in evidence or fact.
I will not put a tooth in it; the tribunal’s opinions on the licence process are a simple combination of malicious falsehoods crudely stitched together and unleashed at a time and in a manner designed to cause the maximum impact. The tribunal seemed to believe it was more important to try to protect its own reputation than it was to deliver a report based on evidence heard clearing the licence process. The tribunal was determined that it would not be seen as an expensive failure. To justify the time and expense, the tribunal felt compelled to bring home the goods. In the publication of these opinions Mr. Moriarty has done a gross disservice. I will not apologise to anyone for saying this. He did not deliver his report as a High Court Judge and I am not obliged to treat the report as the outcome of a court process. The report has no legal standing and I will not respect it as though it has. In the fullness of time, the flawed logic and prejudiced reasoning permeating this biased report will be laid bare.
I already mentioned the civil servants who gave evidence. Evidence was heard from 17 senior civil servants, five Ministers, two senior officials from the Office of the Attorney General, Mr. Richard Nesbitt, senior counsel to the Irish State, and Professor Andersen. Everyone involved in the process gave true and accurate evidence under oath that there was no involvement or improper behaviour by me or any officials in relation to the process.
I am conscious, and this is why I looked for time and I appreciate the co-operation I received from the Government, that I have much more to say and I ask for the indulgence of the Acting Chair. I cannot say what I need to say in the 15 minutes that remain available to me but I will do my best.
Deputy Michael Lowry: The new tribunal theory in the report of last Tuesday states that somehow or other I managed to get information from the civil servants, which I passed on to Denis O’Brien in some vague way, which assisted Esat Digifone. It also came up with the notion that I brought down a guillotine on the process once I learned that Esat Digifone was in the lead and that I railroaded the decision through colleagues in government and prevented proper scrutiny of the result.
Mr. Moriarty delivered the little nugget and sprinkling of gold dust, obviously anxious to liven up the report, that “Michael Lowry delivered the licence” to Denis O’Brien. Let me make it quite clear that this is very offensive, hurtful, damaging and wrong. The project team, comprising officials from the then Department of Transport, Energy and Communications and the Department of Finance was mandated by the Government to make a decision. It was those officials who made a decision in accordance with the criteria. They conveyed that decision to me as Minister, and as Minister I conveyed it to the Government and the Taoiseach of the day.
I make it clear that I took no step along the way without full consultation and without the full advice and approval of the then Secretary General of the Department, Mr. John Loughrey. Most Members of the House will know Mr. Loughrey as a very experienced, shrewd and cautious senior civil servant. Recently, I rang Mr. Loughrey to ask him how Mr. Moriarty could make a declaration such as he did in his report. I will put on the record what he said, which was that to him it was outrageous and that he would recheck his file and notes on it. He got back to me to tell me that everything that was done was in accordance with procedure and governmental policy. He completely rejected — and I reject — the notion that somehow or other we fast-tracked this process. The decision was made.
I ask the politicians in the House whether they could imagine the appalling vista that would have arisen if we brought this report to Cabinet and the Cabinet decided to reject the decision of the project team and to jump Persona to the number one place. We would all be here today speaking about a decision that had gone horribly wrong because we did not accept the decision of a project team that acted independently of the Government of the day and of me as Minister. It is ludicrous and nonsense for Mr. Moriarty to state that we had that opportunity available to us. We simply had the decision conveyed to us, accepted it and gave it approval. Does any politician here believe that John Bruton, Dick Spring and Proinsias De Rossa would be so stupid as to allow the likes of John Loughrey and me to pull the wool over their eyes in someway or other? I can state as a practising politician that if they were that stupid they should never be in a position to hold any office in government or anywhere else. It is pure madness to suggest that we did what we did. The only reason he said it is that he had to hang something on me to bring home a result.
I make it clear formally and officially that all this about me delivering a licence is complete nonsense. None of this has any basis in fact or evidence. I do not have time to explain the detail of it but I state that the proposition put forward by the tribunal is threadbare in its nature. I can state today with absolute confidence that none of the elements are supported by evidence and they are based on biased logic masquerading as reasoned opinion.
I refer to an issue with which the media have run wild as have some Members of Fianna Fáil. This is the idea put forward by Mr. Moriarty that I manufactured a rumour and put it into the public domain about a former Member of the House, a former Taoiseach. I will deal with this. When I went into the Department and was asked to prioritise bringing competition to the mobile sector my officials called me and we met. They told me much of the groundwork for the competition had been done, that it had to be launched and that it was hugely important for the telecommunications sector and for bringing competitiveness to the economy. I was told one of the obstacles was that to have meaningful and true competition with everybody involved, a rumour circulating had to be dispelled. This rumour was that a former Member of the House had a nest egg and that one of the companies which would compete for the project, namely, Motorola, had been promised it. I did not manufacture that rumour; it was brought to my attention by departmental officials when I went into the Department. The officials went about their business, contacting the big telecommunications groups in the world to tell them there would be an open, free and fair competition which the best bidder would win.
I also wish to deal with the issue regarding Ben Dunne. The Moriarty tribunal put this forward as political corruption on my part, a matter involving Ben Dunne and Mark FitzGerald. This opinion, more than any other, astounded me in its brazenness and vindictiveness. I would point out that, contrary to many media reports, the tribunal did not say that I was guilty of corruption. The tribunal has no power to make such findings in any event and this much is abundantly clear from decisions of the Supreme Court. That finding is more of a slur than an actual finding of any substance. This was another sprinkling of Mr. Moriarty’s gold dust designed to give the report legs in the media.
I was absolutely open with the tribunal. I told the tribunal in my evidence that I did raise the matter of a rent review arbitration with Mr. Mark FitzGerald. The purpose of my speaking to him was to see if the saga could be advanced. What happened was very simple. Ben Dunne telephoned me. He knew I knew Mark FitzGerald and he asked me to give him a call to ask him “to shove this along”. He said he was disillusioned and annoyed at the length of time the arbitration process was taking. I telephoned Mark FitzGerald and I asked him to expedite the matter, nothing less and nothing more.
Deputy Michael Lowry: At the end of that process, one of the principals in Mr. FitzGerald’s office — I think it was a Mr. Gill — gave evidence to the effect that the decision with regard to the arbitration was strictly based on merit and that there was no outside influence on his decision.
Acting Chairman (Deputy Olivia Mitchell): I am afraid not, Deputy. I have to implement the order of the Dáil which gave the Deputy a speaking time of 60 minutes. This debate will continue tomorrow and it is open to the Deputy to pursue the question of further time privately.
Deputy Michael Lowry: I will conclude by saying that I wish to return to the suggestions that I received money from Denis O’Brien through three property transactions. I wish to be crystal clear in this regard. I received no money from Denis O’Brien with regard to these or any other matters. No witnesses gave evidence to the tribunal in the past decade supporting the tribunal’s conclusions. The tribunal’s opinions in these matters are therefore based entirely on circumstantial evidence and on unproven documents, many of which are unknown or of dubious origin. People in this House have told me I have had ample opportunity in 14 years to make my case. I have not had ample opportunity. I asked Mr. Moriarty to allow me to return to give evidence but he would not allow me to do so. I ended up at the tribunal because I had been waiting 14 years with a legal team who have been exceptionally good and who had no funds available to them from me. I ended up having to defend myself. I find myself here tonight defending myself. I have been given a slot of one hour while at the same time everybody will be able to have a pop at me over the next two days.
My final comment is that I did nothing wrong with the licence process. I received no money from those involved. I welcome the fact that the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Criminal Assets Bureau, and anybody else, will investigate it. There will be no money trail coming back to Michael Lowry’s door because there never was money and there is no money. I say to the losing applicants and to the people saying there was something wrong with the licence to go to the courts, test it in the courts, put their money on the legal benches where it counts and they will get the answer from the courts because the courts will base their answer and their results on evidence and facts, not on innuendo and supposition.
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