JUSTICE Minister Alan Shatter yesterday climbed down on his refusal to reveal if he had meetings with disgraced TD Michael Lowry -- and finally said that he hadn't actually met him.
After refusing to disclose to this newspaper whether or not he had met the Tipperary North TD, Mr Shatter yesterday claimed that he kept silent on the issue because of what he called a "complex agenda" at Independent Newspapers.
His U-turn on the issue came after he had initially dug in and refused to reveal what contacts he had had with Mr Lowry, even though other ministers had provided this information.
But speaking to the 'Sunday Business Post', Mr Shatter said he hadn't met Mr Lowry since the publication of the Moriarty Tribunal report, except for a brief encounter in the Leinster House corridors when they discussed a constituency matter.
He also claimed to have "a particular concern that as Minister for Justice, a story could have been written over which I would have no control, which could be used to prejudice steps that may be taken arising out of the Moriarty Report".
Last week, Mr Shatter said questions about his contacts with Mr Lowry were "loaded" and part of an "unethical media project" of compiling a "blacklist" of TDs.
And without saying it, the minister last week appeared to suggest that any statement by him on whether he had met Mr Lowry might prejudice any further investigations.
Environment Minister Phil Hogan also claimed that Mr Shatter was constrained in what he could say.
"He's in a very difficult situation as Minister for Justice, where he has, under his aegis, independent arms to the State who may be investigating matters in relation to members of the Oireachtas or other connected parties and therefore it limits his options in relation to disseminating information," Mr Hogan claimed.
However, despite the arguments of both ministers, Mr Shatter finally provided information on his dealings with Mr Lowry.
Yesterday he also accused the Irish Independent of "seeking to use the answer obtained to portray ministers as either sympathetic or unsympathetic to Michael Lowry".
He further accused both this newspaper and the 'Sunday Independent' of publishing repetitive stories and claimed that he declined to say if he had met Mr Lowry because of the "complex agenda" of the newspapers.
Mr Shatter said the questions were inspired by an agenda linked to the possible takeover of Independent News and Media by Denis O'Brien.
Mr Shatter said: "There is an unfortunate assumption that ministers lack the integrity to deal properly with any issue that arises and that if they do have a conversation with Michael Lowry, they are guilty of unspecified wrong by association and that he is equally guilty of some unspecified wrong. I'm not prepared to play or participate in that particular game.
"I do not believe that an individual who has been repeatedly elected by his constituents should be excluded from such courtesy, no matter to what extent I have a disagreement with him."
He added: "As it happens, I have not had a meeting with Michael Lowry since my appointment as minister."