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Thursday 30 March 2017

Moriarty Tribunal ends on a tense note after 13 years

Sam Smyth

The Moriarty Tribunal's final public session at Dublin Castle yesterday finished with tense exchanges more than 13 years after it was established.

It was set up in 1997 to investigate whether payments had been made to the late Taoiseach Charles Haughey and former minister Michael Lowry.

Yesterday Mr Lowry drew trenchant criticism of the tribunal from Danish consultant Prof Michael Andersen, who led the team choosing the winner of the second mobile phone licence in 1995.

As Communications Minister in 1995, Mr Lowry was responsible for the awarding of the licence and he told the tribunal that since then he has been subjected to sustained criticism.

The now independent TD for Tipperary North was representing himself after telling the chairman he could no longer afford to pay his legal team.

Mr Lowry asked Prof Andersen about the awarding of the licence. "I think the Irish GSM tender was conducted in a fair-and-square manner and arrived at a result that was relatively clear," replied Prof Andersen.

He told Mr Lowry the tribunal's legal team had a "pre-defined theory" and a bias through the nine years it investigated the licensing process.

A consortium led by Denis O'Brien won the competition and Prof Andersen said in evidence that Esat Digifone's bid was one of the best he had seen.

Mr Lowry clashed with the tribunal chairman when he tried to ask Prof Andersen about his private talks with the tribunal's legal team.

The chairman reminded Mr Lowry that he had ruled against any such discussion and said that he should be able to understand the ruling even if "your only professional advisers who are present are other than legal ones".

Challenged

Mr Lowry was accompanied in the tribunal by his public relations and financial advisers.

In a significant move earlier this week, John O'Donnell SC, counsel for the State, advised the chairman that his final report would be challenged if he did not circulate further preliminary findings.

John Gleeson SC, counsel for Prof Andersen, also asked Mr Justice Moriarty if he would be making further provisional findings before delivering his final report.

But the chairman said that he would be reflecting carefully over Prof Andersen's 50 hours of evidence over the past two weeks and would give full consideration to further provisional findings.

Prof Andersen said he believed the tribunal had a "hidden agenda" that was not spelled out and that the focus was always on the weak points of Esat and the strong points of Persona (a rival bidder).

Prof Andersen accused the tribunal's legal team of asking him to agree to minutes containing disquieting remarks about the civil servant who chaired the project team choosing the licence winner.

The Danish consultant said they were "murdering Martin Brennan".

At the end of the day in Dublin Castle, Michael McDowell SC, for the tribunal, asked Prof Andersen his opinion on the then minister Mr Lowry meeting Mr O'Brien in a pub and giving him "candidate-specific information" about the competition.

Prof Andersen said: "I don't think it would generally be correct."

Mr McDowell also asked Prof Andersen to explain how his team got crucial scorings in the competition wrong that could have affected the result.

Prof Andersen said he couldn't explain how it happened but he would look into it.

Irish Independent

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