Tuesday 6 December 2016

Lowry knew who won licence in advance, tribunal told

Witness 'shellshocked'

Sam Smyth

Published 02/11/2010 | 05:00

FORMER Communications Minister Michael Lowry knew who had won the second mobile phone licence before the project team making the decision had chosen a winner, a civil servant who was on the team has claimed.

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Ed O'Callaghan, one of 17 on the project team, noted that "the minister already has the winner" before the meeting to decide which consortium would win the licence.

"There was no final report, no consensus asked for. No decision by the project team," wrote Mr O'Callaghan in a note about the project team's position when the result was announced on October 25, 1995.

Mr Lowry was then the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications and was responsible for the awarding of the licence.

New information about the project team choosing the winner emerged yesterday at the Moriarty Tribunal. Danish consultant Professor Michael Andersen, the leader of the project group, was being questioned for the fifth day by counsel for the tribunal, Michael McDowell.

Another civil servant wrote that the leading contenders (Esat Digifone and Persona) were: "Very close, [we] cannot come to a conclusion which is ahead." Sean McMahon told a meeting of the project group two days before the winner was announced that he was not favourably disposed to Denis O'Brien's Esat consortium.

This was because Mr McMahon, who was in the regulatory section of the Department of Communications, had earlier had issues with Mr O'Brien over landlines.

When he learned about the notes written by the two civil servants, Mr Andersen said he was "shellshocked".

"I have been a civil servant myself," said Mr Andersen, "and they are taking out life insurance, in private covering their backs."

Mr Andersen also wondered if some of the civil servants might have been seeking a new position as telecommunications regulator, a new office then being created.

Supported

He went on to say he would be interested to know if the civil servants had supported the final decision after it was made. Counsel for the Department of Communications, John O'Donnell, interjected that the civil servants had all given evidence supporting the final decision.

Some members of the project group wrote a memo on October 23, 1995, saying they could not justify the result on the basis of the then draft report.

Prof Andersen said that he was not surprised that the minister was interested in the progress of the competition.

When the financial background of the leading bidders was discussed, it emerged that Esat Digifone would be required to have access to 1.5 times their capital while Persona would need to have double. It was a "better worse-case scenario for Esat", said Mr McDowell.

Irish Independent

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