Saturday 24 March 2018

Fine Gael divided over fate of former minister

Michael Brennan, Fionnan Sheahan and Eimear Ni Bhraonain

FINE Gael struggled to maintain a united front last night on the future of Michael Lowry as the fallout continued from the Moriarty Tribunal's damning findings against him.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said in Brussels he would like to see the former Fine Gael communications minister resign his Dail seat "in an ideal world" -- but three of his Fine Gael cabinet ministers refused to comment on the issue.

Fine Gael's stance has come under the spotlight following calls on Mr Lowry to quit as a TD from Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin.

The tribunal said Mr Lowry had engaged in a "cynical and venal abuse of office" during the awarding of the second mobile phone licence to businessman Denis O'Brien's Esat Digifone consortium.

But despite Mr Kenny's clear statement, Environment Minister Phil Hogan, Health Minister James Reilly and Justice Minister Alan Shatter all failed to call on Mr Lowry to resign.

Mr Hogan denied that Fine Gael was reluctant to cut the former party minister loose.

"He's not part of Fine Gael, we cut him loose in 1997 when he was no longer a candidate for Fine Gael," he said.

Despite the political pressure, Mr Lowry has vowed that he will not resign the seat he has held since 1987. Last night, he met his committee members and canvassers in Tipperary North in the Anner Hotel in Thurles to brief them about his plans to continue.

Mr Lowry will be able to hang on to his seat for the foreseeable future because gardai investigating the report will not be able to use any of the witness evidence without verifying it independently.


And there is little prospect of him being investigated on foot of a complaint to the State's political standards watchdog.

The Standards in Public Office Commission to govern the behaviour of politicians was only set up in 2001 -- five years after the second mobile phone licence was awarded to Mr O'Brien's Esat Digifone.

The Standards in Public Office Commission confirmed last night that it had not yet received any complaint from a member of the public about Mr Lowry.

None of the opposition parties were prepared to commit to moving a motion against him to call on him to quit his seat -- a tactic last used nine years ago in the case of disgraced former Fianna Fail TD Liam Lawlor.

Mr Kenny last night said he would like Mr Lowry to resign "in an ideal world".

"But we don't live in an ideal world and my view actually is that had the Abbeylara question been decided before now this kind of investigative work could have been done at a far earlier time, I think, and at a far less cost than the tribunal," he said.

Mr Kenny was referring to the 2001 Supreme Court ruling which prevented Dail committees from carrying out investigations into any alleged wrongdoing.

Irish Independent

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