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Sunday 4 December 2016

Press told of licence award before Cabinet could consider decision

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

Published 25/03/2011 | 05:00

FORMER communications minister Michael Lowry announced the winner of the second mobile phone licence before the Cabinet had even had a chance to consider it.

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The issue of the full Cabinet's knowledge of the process is politically sensitive -- because Taoiseach Enda Kenny and five other ministers in the current Government were serving in the Cabinet at that time.

But there is a detailed account in the Moriarty Tribunal's report of how Mr Lowry managed to "bypass" his ministerial colleagues, who were supposed to have the final say on the licence.

Mr Lowry got "political clearance" from the leaders of the parties in the Rainbow Government at a cabinet committee meeting to announce that Esat Digifone was the winner of the competition. He went straight out to a press conference to declare this publicly.

That was on October 25, 1995, but it was only the following day that the full Cabinet got to consider the matter. The Cabinet merely noted the result "which had already been announced by Mr Lowry", said the report.

It explored what happened at the previous day's meeting of the cabinet committee, which gave Mr Lowry clearance to announce the result.

Those present were the then Fine Gael Taoiseach John Bruton, Labour Tanaiste Dick Spring, Democratic Left social welfare minister Proinsias De Rossa and Labour finance minister Ruairi Quinn.

Mr Lowry told them that Esat Digifone was the "clear winner" and that it was well ahead of the next-ranked consortium.

But the tribunal found that the main briefing document used by him to inform the committee contained a "slanted presentation" of the positions of the top two contenders, Esat Digifone and Persona.

It said the document would have given any person a "false impression" of the gap between them. The civil servant who prepared the document said her objective was to present the recommended winner, Esat Digifone, "in the most positive comparable light".

Slanted

All of the above ministers told the tribunal they would have sought more information if they had known this.

The tribunal said Mr Lowry had an "insidious and pervasive influence" on the mobile phone licence competition.

He was found to have "guillotined" the competition process by denying the project evaluation team an extra week to consider its decision.

Again, the Cabinet knew nothing about this.

The tribunal found that before the ink was dry on the Government's decision to set up a mobile phone licence competition, Mr Lowry lent currency to a "groundless rumour" that victory for a rival consortium would lead to a "nest egg" for a Fianna Fail politician.

And it said Mr Lowry had a desire to "accelerate the process" and to make a quick announcement of the result.

The tribunal found that Mr Lowry also told this rumour to Taoiseach John Bruton when he was trying to persuade him the Government had no option but to choose his recommendation -- Esat Digifone.

Mr Bruton told the tribunal this had not influenced his final decision. He could not be contacted for comment yesterday.

Irish Independent

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