Sunday 23 July 2017

Rabbitte hits at garda delay over findings of corruption

Phil Hogan says March 25 meeting with Denis O'Brien at Mount Juliet was 'chance' and 'brief'

COMMUNICATIONS Minister Pat Rabbitte has said he finds "unconscionable" what he has described as the "interminable delay" in garda investigations into matters related to corruption arising out of tribunals of inquiry.

COMMUNICATIONS Minister Pat Rabbitte has said he finds "unconscionable" what he has described as the "interminable delay" in garda investigations into matters related to corruption arising out of tribunals of inquiry.

In an interview with the Sunday Independent, Mr Rabbitte also questioned why "so much time has elapsed" and still no banker has been brought to account for the "destruction of the country".

Mr Rabbitte came out in support of the Public Expenditure and Reform Minister, Brendan Howlin, who has said that there should be consequences for people against whom adverse findings have been made at the Moriarty and Mahon tribunals.

The Social Protection Minister, Joan Burton, has also said that the Government should review its contacts with such people.

The Labour ministers made the calls after Taoiseach Enda Kenny was photographed alongside businessman Denis O'Brien at the New

York Stock Exchange during St Patrick's week.

Mr Rabbitte told the Sunday Independent: "What was exposed in Mahon and Moriarty is completely unacceptable and I agree with my colleague Brendan Howlin that there ought to be consequences."

The Moriarty tribunal found that the former Fine Gael minister Michael Lowry had received a payment of £447,000 from Mr O'Brien and that he was the beneficiary of other financial arrangements with the businessman, which collectively amounted to almost £1m.

According to the findings of the tribunal, Mr Lowry had an "insidious and pervasive" influence on the licence competition and imparted "substantive information" that helped Mr O'Brien's Esat consortium win the GSM competition.

Both Mr Lowry and Mr O'Brien have rejected the tribunal report but, after a year of consideration, have confirmed that they do not intend to challenge the findings in the High Court.

Last week the controversy caused deeper instability within the Coalition after it emerged that Environment Minister Phil Hogan went ahead with a meeting with Mr Lowry six days after the publication of the Moriarty tribunal's findings.

Two days after that meeting, which was also attended by departmental officials, Mr Hogan told the Dail that he would have "no truck" with those against whom adverse findings had been made.

On March 25 last, Mr Hogan also "briefly bumped into" Mr O'Brien at the Mount Juliet Golf and Country Club in Co Kilkenny, five days after Taoiseach Enda Kenny had appeared on a New York Stock Exchange balcony alongside the businessman.

Last night a spokesman for Mr Hogan said that the minister was "emphatic" that the "chance encounter" at Mount Juliet was brief and that only "pleasantries" were exchanged. It has also emerged that the controversy has reopened a divide within Fine Gael, with younger members of the parliamentary party distinctly uncomfortable with developments.

The Government sent the Moriarty tribunal's report to the gardai and other relevant authorities after its publication in March last year. The Mahon tribunal's report was also recently forwarded to the same authorities.

Today, Mr Rabbitte says: "I find it difficult to understand why it takes so long to come to conclusions on these matters. I find it very difficult to understand why no file has yet been stamped for the prosecution authorities."

Mr Kenny, has made it known that he is at a loss to understand the "fuss" that has developed following the photo of him alongside Mr O'Brien in New York and the subsequent emergence of contacts between Mr Lowry and at least three Fine Gael ministers -- Mr Hogan, Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Health Minister James Reilly.

The Fine Gael position is that contacts should be maintained with Mr O'Brien as part of the Government's strategy to bring about job creation.

The businessman has also made this argument, specifically in response to the criticisms by Social Protection Minister Joan Burton.

However, it is now clear that there is significant dissent within the Coalition in relation to Government contacts with Mr O'Brien and between individual Fine Gael ministers and Mr Lowry.

Those tensions were evident in a tweet that was posted by Fine Gael parliamentary party chairman Charlie Flanagan, who asked: "Has Joan Burton a Government death wish?"

His comment followed the intervention of Ms Burton, who last week questioned the wisdom of Mr Hogan's decision to hold a scheduled meeting with Mr Lowry.

However, Minister Jimmy Deenihan of Fine Gael, was the first to raise doubts over the wisdom of Mr Hogan meeting Mr Lowry.

The Sunday Independent has now established that the 'Young Turks' in Fine Gael -- such as Transport Minister Leo Varadkar, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, and Ministers of State Lucinda Creighton and Ciaran Cannon -- are also "deeply unhappy" with recent disclosures.

One senior Fine Gael figure described the party position (that contact with Mr O'Brien is essential for job creation) as "deeply disingenuous". This figure said: "We cannot apply a different standard to Fine Gael than that which we apply to Fianna Fail."

On Friday a Labour backbench TD, Colm Keaveney, came to the defence of Ms Burton and hit out at Mr Flanagan.

Describing the use of the phrase "death wish" as "horrific stuff", Mr Keaveney claimed that Fine Gael TDs were unhappy with Mr Flanagan's remarks and may seek to have him replaced.

"What you tweet and who you meet in politics are important," Mr Keaveney said. "This kind of near-misogynistic comment is unacceptable."

A spokesman for Fine Gael said Mr Flanagan's views were his own and not those of the party.

This weekend, however, several Labour figures, including a number of ministers, have accused Mr Hogan of being "stupid, reckless and arrogant" in his behaviour, especially since Christmas, and have said patience with him has all but run out.

The Sunday Independent spoke to a dozen Labour ministers and backbench TDs who were united in their annoyance with Mr Hogan, who they said had "caused significant damage" to the reputation of the Government.

"He certainly annoyed many of us with his stroke over the septic tank charge reduction to €5 without clearing it at Cabinet, but this household thing has become a lightening rod for discontent," one senior minister said.

"He swans around like it's the Dark Ages, while making a cock-up of his own department. This whole fiasco at every stage was his fault," said another Labour minister.

Relations between Mr Hogan and Ms Burton are now said to be at an "all-time low" and "extremely hostile".

"We have no time for this old-school FG cronyism -- and unlike the Greens with Fianna Fail, we will not sit back and watch Fine Gael box us into a corner that leads us to our destruction. Phil needs to take a 'time out', because he is certainly the villain-in-chief at the minute," said another TD.

Some in the Labour Party are so irate at the household charge fiasco, and now the revelation of his meeting Mr Lowry, that they have called into question Mr Hogan's ability to stay at his post.

"He can't take much more before his job begins to appear to be in question," said one senior Labour TD.

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