'Silver Fox' warned his ministerial boss not to meet bidders
Published 23/03/2011 | 05:00
JOHN Loughrey, the Secretary General at the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications as it was called in 1994 when Michael Lowry was appointed minister, was nicknamed "The Silver Fox" by his subordinates.
The former mandarin still has a luxuriant head of hair the colour of polished aluminium as he did in 1995 when Mr Lowry awarded the second mobile phone licence to Denis O'Brien's Esat Digifone.
And he was in charge when Mr Lowry resigned in disgrace in 1996 after it was revealed that Dunne Stores had secretly paid nearly £IR500,000 to refurbish his home in Tipperary.
Mr Loughrey cut his teeth in crisis management before that, in the Beef Tribunal where he worked closely with his mentor in the civil service Padraig O hUiginn, the secretary general who guided the then Taoiseach, Charles Haughey.
He won his spurs in 1988 when he was appointed secretary general of the Department of Energy, and he was re-appointed in 1993, the year before Michael Lowry arrived as minister.
In the refurbished Department of Transport, Energy and Communications, his skill and experience was exactly what a first-time minister like Mr Lowry needed.
Mr Loughrey specifically warned Mr Lowry to avoid meeting members of the consortia bidding for the licence -- but the rookie minister ignored him.
The son of an army sergeant who became a civil servant, he graduated from business studies at Trinity and did a postgrad course in economics at UCD before joining the civil service. He served in the Department of Finance, left to join the European Investment Bank, and came back to the civil service in 1978.
Before he retired in 1989, Mr Loughrey (67) had at some time or other been effectively controlling ESB, CIE, Aer Lingus, Aer Rianta, the Irish National Petroleum Company, the Irish Aviation Authority and An Post.
It was this experience that had him favour the privatisation of Telecom because, he has said, the State was an untrustworthy shareholder because it always had another agenda.