Wednesday 13 December 2017

Financier tried to hire McDowell for own case against Moriarty

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

FINANCIER Dermot Desmond -- who is trying to block barrister Michael McDowell from representing the Moriarty Tribunal -- himself tried to hire Mr McDowell for a court case against the tribunal last month.

Mr Desmond tried to retain Mr McDowell for "discreet" proceedings against the tribunal, it emerged yesterday in the High Court.

Mr McDowell, the former Justice Minister and now a senior counsel, returned to private practice after he lost his seat at the 2007 General Election.

Lawyers representing Mr Desmond and businessman Denis O'Brien are seeking an injunction to prevent Mr McDowell from cross-examining a key witness at the long- running inquiry.

Both businessmen allege "objective bias" -- or an appearance of bias -- against them on the part of Mr McDowell arising from his involvement in Irish public affairs over 15 years.

Bill Shipsey, legal representative for Mr Desmond, said Mr McDowell had declined to act for Mr Desmond owing to a conflict of interest.


Mr Shipsey said it "beggared belief" that Mr McDowell could be chosen by the Moriarty Tribunal to act for it, even in the limited role of cross-examining Danish telecommunications consultant Michael Andersen, as there was a "plethora of conflicts" affecting Mr McDowell's ability to act as part of the Moriarty Tribunal's legal team

Mr McDowell's retention by the Moriarty Tribunal could be distinguished from Mr Desmond's efforts to retain Mr McDowell as Mr Desmond was not asking the former justice minister to carry out "an adjudicative function", said Mr Shipsey.

Mr Desmond's company, IIU, is at the centre of a long-running probe into the awarding, in 1996, of the State's second mobile phone licence to Esat Digifone, a consortium that was led by Mr O'Brien and backed by IIU.

When Esat first applied to be considered to operate the licence, IIU was not part of Esat's original ownership structure, but IIU later emerged as a 20 per cent shareholder in the consortium and the "ownership issue" is now a key part of the Tribunal's inquiries.


Mr Shipsey said that Mr McDowell was Attorney General in 2002 when the State refused to waive confidentiality over a legal opinion given to the Department of the Environment, which stated that the awarding of the licence to Esat should proceed.

Mr McDowell was also, as Justice Minister in 2005, part of the Cabinet that refused to indemnify Mr Andersen to testify before the Moriarty Tribunal.

In court papers, Mr Justice John Hedigan was told that Mr McDowell, as a TD and member of Dail Eireann, was part of a political party -- the Progressive Democrats -- that had a problem and a political issue with the awarding of the licence to Esat.

Jim O'Callaghan, representing Mr O'Brien, said that a political adversary of Michael Lowry, the ex-Fine Gael TD who was Communications Minister when the licence was awarded, had now been hired by the tribunal.

Judge Hedigan will today decide whether Mr O'Brien and Mr Desmond can stop Mr McDowell acting as a lawyer for the Moriarty Tribunal.

The judge will hear arguments from the tribunal before ruling on the applications by Mr O'Brien and Mr Desmond on its decision to engage Mr McDowell.

Irish Independent

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