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Defiant Alan Shatter refuses to reveal if he met Lowry

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JUSTICE Minister Alan Shatter defiantly refused to say if he met with former Fine Gael colleague and disgraced Independent TD Michael Lowry.

The minister's stance is at odds with the transparent approach of his Cabinet colleagues who all answered the question on meetings with Mr Lowry a week ago.

Mr Shatter's silence adds to government embarrassment over meetings by Fine Gael ministers with Mr Lowry after he was castigated by the Moriarty Tribunal.

The affair sparked mounting tensions within the Coalition between Fine Gael and Labour.

But mystery surrounds any contact between Mr Shatter and Mr Lowry because the minister continues to refuse to say if he met the Independent TD.

Mr Lowry was lobbying the Government for a Las Vegas-style casino in his Tipperary North constituency last year and requested a meeting with Mr Shatter at that time.

But despite every other Cabinet minister saying immediately last week if they met Mr Lowry since the publication of Moriarty, Mr Shatter still won't answer the question, only saying that he was not "participating in Independent Newspapers' agenda".

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is standing by Mr Shatter's refusal to answer the question.

"It is up to ministers to respond to media queries as they see fit.

"The Taoiseach isn't in the business of commenting on how they do so," a government spokesperson said.

On foot of revelations of Environment Minister Phil Hogan meeting Mr Lowry, Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Health Minister Dr James Reilly freely admitted they also held meetings with the former Fine Gael TD and minister.

Mr Shatter's bizarre stance differs from his Cabinet colleagues' rapid response to a variety of media organisations.

All three Fine Gael ministers provided comprehensive details of their dealing with Mr Lowry, each insisting it was a standard meeting with a TD making representations on behalf of constituents.

Responded

Mr Noonan, for example, responded to queries from the Irish Independent, 'The Irish Times', 'Irish Examiner' and 'Irish Daily Mail'.

At the time, Mr Shatter was the only one of the 15 Cabinet ministers who did not say whether or not he had a meeting with Mr Lowry.

A spokesperson said last week the minister had "not actually responded" and the Department of Justice had "not got a response".

Contacted again by the Irish Independent yesterday, to clarify if Mr Shatter had a response a week later or if his official diary had been checked, the minister's politically-appointed spokeswoman Lorraine Hall said there was no response.

"The minister has to provide a response to it. I am unlikely to have a response," Ms Hall said.

"I haven't been given a response from the minister," she added.

When asked why Mr Shatter was not able to provide a response, like each of his Cabinet colleagues, the spokeswoman said: "That's a matter for them."

But an hour-and-a-half later, Ms Hall returned with a response to the query, direct from the minister himself.

"As Minister for Justice I am not participating in Independent Newspapers' agenda."

Mr Shatter's refusal to respond leaves a question mark over whether he did meet with Mr Lowry and how many meetings may have taken place.

Mr Lowry sought a meeting on behalf of the promoters of the €450m casino project with Mr Shatter last October after he unveiled new laws effectively ruling out the super casino.

The Independent TD said at the time they wanted the minister to show "some degree of flexibility" for the project.

The Tipperary Venue site in Two-Mile Borris, 9km from Thurles, was being planned in true Las Vegas-style with a church with an 18-metre-high steeple and a replica of the White House, known as the Hoban Memorial Building in honour of architect James Hoban.

The casino element of the plan has since been scaled down in the light of Mr Shatter's new legislation.

Mr Shatter's department confirmed last year a request for a meeting had been received from Mr Lowry.

Project

Last weekend, Mr Lowry refused to comment about whether he had met Mr Shatter to lobby him about the €460m casino project.

"I have things to do, I have positive things to do and I'm not interested in reading the sh*t that ye're writing any more," he told this newspaper.

Irish Independent