Thursday 19 April 2018

Fury over Kenny's 'hiding' on Lowry row

Opposition to target money trail in debate on Moriarty Tribunal

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

FINE GAEL will today use Labour minister Pat Rabbitte to 'shield' Enda Kenny from a barrage of questions over the damning Moriarty Tribunal report.

Last night Opposition TDs were furious that Mr Kenny will not answer questions in a special Dail debate on the fallout from the scandal.

The debate is set to shine the spotlight firmly on disgraced TD Michael Lowry and the report's findings, which claim he helped businessman Denis O'Brien to secure a lucrative mobile phone licence.

But it is unlikely that the Taoiseach or other ministers who served in the Rainbow Coalition with Mr Lowry will answer questions in the Dail during the two-day debate.

Fianna Fail are demanding the chance to quiz the Taoiseach and other politicians who were in cabinet at the time.

Among the issues Fianna Fail want to probe is Fine Gael's party funding at the time.

But while a question-and-answer session will take place with a minister nominated by the Government, it is most likely to be Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte.

"We can't see how Pat Rabbitte can answer questions about Fine Gael fundraising at the time," a Fianna Fail spokesman said.

Fianna Fail will also try to pursue Environment Minister Phil Hogan about his fundraising role. It will also press other ministers over why the Cabinet had been "bypassed" by Mr Lowry, according to the tribunal.

Mr Kenny is expected to make a speech outlining political reforms, such as a ban on corporate donation. But government sources said that the Taoiseach himself is unlikely to answer questions during the debate. Nor is Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore expected to speak.

The Government has set aside time in the Dail today and tomorrow to debate the report, which slated Mr Lowry and said he engaged in a "cynical and venal abuse of office".

Defiant

But a defiant Mr Lowry promised to face down what are likely to be repeated calls for him to resign today.

He again insisted he has been elected by the voters of north Tipperary and is going nowhere. "I'm democratically elected. I'll see out my term in the Dail and the likelihood is I'll contest the next general election," he said.

And he moved to secure extra Dail speaking time to try to salvage his battered reputation.

After last-minute haggling, Government Chief Whip Paul Kehoe confirmed that Mr Lowry is to be given as much time as he needs "within reason" to explain his position. It is understood he will be allowed to make a second statement after a question-and-answer session with the minister nominated by the Government.

Government sources claimed Mr Lowry initially asked for half an hour's speaking time, which was granted by the Government, but later changed his demands.

This was denied by Mr Lowry.

"They have agreed to give me the hour I have asked for," he said last night.

"And they will let me speak after the debate. It will be statements or questions. It's worth fighting your corner and that's what I went up to Dublin to do."

The former Fine Gael minister has rejected findings made against him by the tribunal, including a finding of corruption in relation to representations made by him on behalf of businessman Ben Dunne during a rent arbitration process.

The tribunal also concluded that Mr Lowry received a total of IR£900,000 from Mr O'Brien in a number of clandestine payments and that the Tipperary deputy had "delivered" the State's second mobile phone licence for Mr O'Brien.

Mr Kehoe and the other party whips will meet this morning to finalise how the debate will be structured.

"I'll be talking to the other whips and we will see how we should handle this," Mr Kehoe said.

Irish Independent

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