Tribunal legal costs challenged by Lowry
Published 11/11/2015 | 02:30
Former Communications Minister Michael Lowry is challenging a decision by the Moriarty Tribunal to only award him one-third of his legal costs during the inquiry's 14-year tenure.
He claims he was treated unfairly and was discriminated against compared to the other subject of the tribunal, the late former Taoiseach Charles Haughey, who was awarded 100pc of his costs.
The Independent Tipperary North TD says his overall bill will run into millions of euro because he had to engage with the tribunal on an almost continuous basis over its 14 years.
The claims came on the opening of Mr Lowry's High Court judicial review application over the October 2013 decision of the tribunal to only award him one-third of his legal costs after it found he failed to fully co-operate with it.
The tribunal is opposing the action.
Niamh Hyland SC, for Mr Lowry, said Mr Lowry and Mr Haughey were the two subjects of the terms of the reference of the tribunal which was set up in 1997 to investigate whether payments were made to the two men while in public office and in circumstances which gave rise to inferences the payments were in connection with office.
In its findings, the tribunal held that in the course of his office, Mr Lowry conferred benefit on businessman Denis O'Brien who had made or facilitated payments to the then communications minister (Lowry) but there was no finding Mr O'Brien had benefited from those payments. Mr Lowry rejects those findings, counsel said.
In "stark contrast" to what happened with Mr Lowry, the tribunal found that between 1979 and 1996, Mr Haughey obtained benefit of €11m which in 1998 was 171 times his salary, counsel said.
No criminal charges arose out of this as the tribunal findings have no legal effect and were described by one Supreme Court judge as "sterile" legal findings.
Ms Hyland argued the tribunal's awarding of only one-third of Mr Lowry's costs was disproportionate particularly having regard to the level of co-operation he provided to it.
For example, Mr Lowry made 31 bank accounts available to the tribunal over nine years which involved a huge amount of work.
Mr Lowry had not brought any legal challenge to the tribunal until this case unlike others, including Mr Haughey and Mr O'Brien, who had brought such challenges. This was in circumstances where 70pc of the tribunal was devoted to the awarding of the country's first mobile phone licence to ESAT, Mr O'Brien's company.
There was inequality by the tribunal in that it failed to apply its own legal principles in making the costs order, counsel said. The tribunal said Mr Lowry failed to identify one bank account in the Isle of Man and had furnished falsified documents. This was denied by Ms Hyland.
The case continues.