Monday 19 February 2018

Does Senator have Michael Lowry 'smoking gun'?

Claims of evidence that TD was involved in purchase of Doncaster football ground by Denis O'Brien

John Drennan and Willie Kealy

A Fianna Fail senator has sensationally claimed that he has new information which shows Michael Lowry's involvement in the acquisition of Doncaster Rovers football ground by Denis O'Brien.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson claims Lowry attended well over 50 meetings concerning this most controversial land deal.

This has fuelled speculation it might be a "smoking gun" not previously available to the Moriarty Tribunal.

It could also be crucial to those unsuccessful bidders for the hugely lucrative second mobile telephone licence, who were given permission to proceed with a case against the State by the Supreme Court last week.

Mr O'Brien and Mr Lowry have both insisted that Mr Lowry had no involvement in the Doncaster deal. Judge Moriarty found that the Tipperary deputy did have an involvement in the transaction, which it was "intended would entail a payment to or the conferral of a pecuniary advantage on Mr Lowry by Mr Denis O'Brien".

The tribunal however, in its final report, was unable to comment on "what it believes may have been the nature of Lowry's interest and involvement" for this would be "unduly speculative".

Last Thursday, Fianna Fail senator Diarmuid Wilson, from Cavan, made the dramatic claim that evidence not previously seen by the tribunal clearly indicated an involvement by Mr Lowry in the Doncaster deal. And he said he would be forwarding this to the chairman of the tribunal, Mr Justice Moriarty.

While the tribunal has finished its work, apart from the awarding of costs, and published its final report, this raises the possibility that Judge Moriarty may feel obliged to pass on any new information he receives for further investigation.

It is understood this would involve informing the clerk of the Dail in the first instance, who would then, presumably, bring it to the attention of the Taoiseach.

Mr Wilson said: "In a matter of weeks Mr Justice Moriarty of the Moriarty tribunal will adjudicate on third-party legal cost applications. The auditor general has estimated these costs will be in the region of €80m to €100m.

"I wish to advise the House that I have received new information that raises concerns about the evidence of some key tribunal witnesses, particularly a member of the Lower House.

The new information refers to the acquisition of Doncaster Rovers Football Club and records that the member attended well in excess of 50 meetings relating to this acquisition."

It is apparent that Mr Lowry is the "member of the Lower House" to whom the senator was referring.

Mr Wilson went on to say: "It is my understanding that neither these meetings nor their extent were advised to the tribunal, and I will be forwarding this information to the tribunal.

"I ask the leader to arrange a debate immediately on our return in September on not only the Moriarty tribunal, but the Mahon tribunal and future potential tribunals, so the costs of these tribunals are dealt with as a matter of urgency."

Senator Martin Conway, Fine Gael, then said: "I concur with much of what Senator Wilson has said."

The sensational Seanad revelations will also prove embarrassing for the Taoiseach, who again last week was pressed by Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin to give his full backing to the Moriarty report.

Twice the Taoiseach was pressed to say whether or not he accepted the findings of the Moriarty report, eventually answering only that "the findings are very clear".

There could also be embarrassment for the Government if it finds itself forced to effectively distance itself from the findings of the Moriarty report as a legal necessity in defending the State against any action one or all of the underbidders may take.

Last week in the wake of the Supreme Court decision, the Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte said that the State would fully defend any such case seeking compensation for the millions of euro spent by the unsuccessful underbidders in a competition which they now say was unfair to them.They may also seek to recoup potential lost profits.

The Doncaster module of the tribunal, which was held in the wake of an unsuccessful legal challenge by Denis O'Brien, was one of the more controversial modules of the Moriarty Tribunal.

In evidence, Michael Lowry said he had nothing to do with the deal where the lease on the stadium was bought by Denis O'Brien for stg£4.3m in 1998 whilst Denis O'Brien also claimed the deal had nothing to do with Mr Lowry.

However, in his report Justice Moriarty found that Mr Lowry did have an involvement in a transaction. The tribunal, however, was unable to comment on ''what it believes may have been the nature of Lowry's interest and involvement'' for this would be ''unduly speculative''.

Though it is unlikely the tribunal would sit again to review any new documentation forwarded by Mr Wilson, the release of new information that could undermine Mr Lowry's position would be of serious interest to those suing the state over the issuing of the mobile phone licence.

One source, close to one of the losing consortia, told the Sunday Independent that whilst the case would ''mostly consist of a repetition of the material covered by Moriarty", they were "utterly confident the case would unveil new evidence, you can bet on it".

In the Dail, however, the Taoiseach said that he would "reflect on the written judgement of the Supreme Court, which will not be available for quite some time, to determine whether there are any implications for the State", and that this was essentially ''a private matter which will now return to the High Court".

Yesterday Mr Lowry, when contacted by the Sunday Independent, said he had no comment to make.

A spokesman for Mr O'Brien was uncontactable last night.

Sunday Independent

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