Saturday 27 December 2014

Gene Kerrigan: He just had to ask for the tape, but he never did

The Tipperary North TD delivered some classic lines and a wee slap at a young colleague but no answers.

Published 17/03/2013 | 05:00

MICHAEL Lowry's problems are not confined to the revelation in this newspaper that he made a secret payment of stg£250,000, and that the payment contradicted what he told the Moriarty tribunal. There's a new young junior minister in the constituency of Tipperary North. Labour's Alan Kelly not only has the prestige of the post, he has the ear of those above in Dublin. And if there's anything constituents like – and Mr Lowry knows this well – it's the energetic young local lad with access to the ear of those above in Dublin.

In his time, Mr Lowry was that lad. Now, about to turn 60, he found himself batting away Kelly's demands that Lowry should answer questions about his money trails. Last Monday, Mr Lowry decided to go on Tipp FM, to answer questions in his own manner, and to take a wee slap at Kelly. This wasn't aimed at a national audience. It was to shore up support among the faithful.

"Was that tape genuine?" asked Tipp FM presenter Seamus Martin.

The tape in question was the one in which Lowry spoke with land dealer Kevin Phelan, begging him not to "land me in it . . . if that comes out again I'm f***ing ruined, I'm bankrupt".

Lowry responded by claiming his solicitor "sought access to the tape, because – naturally enough, we wanted to examine the tape, to establish the veracity of the tape". However, "Independent Newspapers for three weeks have refused to hand over the tape".

This wasn't true. First, it states that the solicitor asked for the tape; and it suggests that this was refused and the refusal continued over three weeks. Not that it matters, but it was two weeks. And there was no request for the tape. There was no refusal.

Lowry's solicitor sent this newspaper a letter asking for "copies of all data in your possession in relation to the alleged telephone recordings pursuant to the Data Protection Act".

Now, "all data" is a very wide request, covering emails, letters, phone call records, documents and notes relevant to the phone call. If the recording itself was meant to be part of this request, it was only as part of a large and completely unacceptable trawl through the newspaper's files.

The newspaper gave the standard reply: No, we don't hand over our background material to anyone who asks. Had Lowry wanted the tape, he only had to ask – it had already been given to RTE and TV3, not to mention the Moriarty tribunal and the Criminal Assets Bureau. He has never asked for that tape.

Seamus Martin asked Lowry: "Have you any recollection of having that conversation?"

Lowry answered with an attack on what he said was "the media in general and the Sunday Independent in particular", who have allegedly set up what he called the "topple Lowry campaign". He wanted to know, "what is the motivation for the campaign?"

Well, Michael, I don't know anyone in journalism who cares at all about toppling you. These are historic times, there is much else to worry about. But, there are, putting it mildly, some loose ends left over from your disastrous short time as a minister. And evidence suggesting a payment of a quarter of a million pounds, undisclosed to the tribunal, is one hell of a loose end. Any journalist, having access to such evidence, who didn't follow it up, is in the wrong business.

Lowry's attack on the media at the very least skirted defamation of identifiable journalists. But defamation doesn't matter – it only matters when journalists do it.

"Is that tape genuine?" asked Seamus Martin.

And here Lowry delivered a great line: "How would I know whether it's me, when the Independent have refused to hand over the tape?"

He had the transcript. He had already confirmed the central point of the story, that he had made the stg£250,000 payment. What more did he need to jog his memory? He can't have engaged in that many fraught phone calls involving secret payments of that kind of money. Or, perhaps he has.

"You have no recollection of it at all?" asked Seamus Martin.

To answer that, the sly response. "I can understand you trying to represent your journalistic colleagues," said Lowry. The blameless presenter, asking a perfectly natural question, is dismissed as being on the side of what Lowry termed the "journalists from the outside".

Lowry gave the wee slap at Alan Kelly while doing a little monologue on the various goodies he himself "delivered" to Tipperary (the new day centre in Borrisokane, the new PE hall in Killenaule). So, facilities that come from the work and the taxes of the people of Tipperary are deemed trophies to be bestowed by a benevolent tax evader.

"Did you pay Kevin Phelan 250,000 or did you pay him 65,000?" And, "What did you pay that man for in the first place?"

No answers, just denouncement of "trial by media", "there's nothing new", and warnings that his "legals" are on the job.

Irish Independent

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