Monday 19 February 2018

Fear of lawsuits stops Kenny accepting Moriarty findings

Fionnan Sheahan and Aine Kerr

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is understood to be reluctant to accept the findings of the Moriarty Tribunal to prevent the State having to pay a multimillion euro compensation bill over the awarding of a controversial mobile phone licence in the 1990s.

The Government is also worried about prejudicing any prosecutions that may arise from the tribunal report.

The Coalition's cautious response comes amid a promise from disgraced Independent TD Michael Lowry to go all the way to the "European Court of Human Rights" to clear his name of the allegations made against him by the tribunal.

But the former Fine Gael minister will this morning face a call from the rest of the TDs in the Dail to "voluntarily resign" on foot of the Moriarty Tribunal's report.

Mr Lowry will face a motion of censure, agreed by government and opposition parties alike, saying his conduct was "completely unacceptable".

Mr Kenny has been accused of being equivocal in his comments on Mr Lowry and failing to accept the tribunal's findings in an unprecedented fashion.

The Government is concerned the tribunal report could assist compensation claims from groups that failed to win the second mobile phone licence at the centre of the probe.

Two unsuccessful bidders for the State's second mobile phone licence are pursuing compensation cases in the Supreme Court.

The revival of the actions by losing bidders Persona and Comcast comes after the tribunal found Mr Lowry "delivered the licence" to businessman Denis O'Brien in his successful bid to secure the licence for Esat Digifone.

The awarding of the second GSM licence remains the most lucrative licence ever awarded in the State.

A cabinet minister last night told the Irish Independent that the Coalition didn't want to "end up like Mary Harney" -- a reference to comments by the former Tanaiste which were deemed to have prejudiced a case against former Taoiseach Charlie Haughey.

Mr Lowry last night vowed to use every legal option available to him at the High Court, the Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights to clear his name.

Mr Kenny explained there were legal issues for the Government to consider in its response to the report.

Government sources said the coalition must be cautious as there were legal actions pending against the State over the awarding of the licence to Mr O'Brien's Esat Digifone.

The tribunal report only has the legal status of being the opinion of its chairman, Mr Justice Michael Moriarty. But if the Government recognised the findings, it would give it greater weight in a court case.

"The document itself doesn't allow an opening but senior politicians could give it status," a source said.

Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte also said the Government had to be wary about saying anything that "might expose the taxpayer".

"It does mean for that reason that we are constrained by what we can say," he said.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said it was "extraordinary" that the Taoiseach had not yet said if he accepted the findings of the tribunal.

Mr Kenny finally agreed to have the motion tabled yesterday, after coming under sustained pressure from the opposition.

The carefully worded motion will note the final report of the Moriarty Tribunal and say the Dail believes the conduct set out in the tribunal report was "completely unacceptable" for a member of the Oireachtas.

The motion will call for Mr Lowry to "voluntarily resign" his seat.

It will not be debated and will be passed with all-party agreement without debate.

Mr Lowry last night insisted his "conscience is clear" after he endured another day of criticisms and attacks in the Dail.

Irish Independent

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