O'Brien, Lowry may face damages bill
THE Cabinet unanimously supported a proposal to try and make businessman Denis O'Brien and former minister Michael Lowry liable in the event of any award of damages arising from a case taken by one of the failed bidders in the 1995 mobile phone licence competition.
Two unsuccessful mobile phone consortiums – Persona and Comcast – are suing the State, alleging corruption in the licensing process, and if successful, both could be in line for substantial compensation.
Last year, the Moriarty tribunal found that former Minister for Public Enterprise Mr Lowry interfered with the competition process to the benefit of Mr O'Brien's East Digifone's bid.
The State, which is contesting both cases, lodged papers in the Persona case last week, arguing that if the court ruled against it on the basis of any wrongful or corrupt acts, then Mr O'Brien and Mr Lowry should be liable for damages.
The proposal to enjoin the businessman and the Tipperary politician to the case was brought to Cabinet following legal advice received by Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte.
It was also supported by the Attorney General Marie Whelan, and the Cabinet supported the decision without any dissent or much, if any, debate.
When Esat Telecom, which owned Esat Digifone, was sold in 2000 for €2.9bn, Mr O'Brien made a personal gain of more than €350m and went on to become one of Ireland's richest businessmen.
The Moriarty report found Mr Lowry, who is a sitting TD for Tipperary and entitled to a five-figure pension when he ceases to be a TD, gave "substantive information to Mr O'Brien of significant value and assistance to him in securing the licence".
Persona was the highest rated contender along with Esat in rankings drawn up by civil servants prior to the awarding of the licence.
Persona's case, which was lodged in 2001, was taken against the Minister for Enterprise, Ireland and the Attorney General.
Comcast, led by Former Libertas leader Declan Ganley, took a case against the Minister for Public Enterprise, Esat Telecom, Mr Lowry, Mr O'Brien, Ireland and the Attorney General.
A spokesman for Mr O'Brien could not be contacted.