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Judge to rule on businessmen's objection to McDowell's role

A JUDGE will give his decision today on an application by businessmen Denis 0'Brien and Dermot Desmond to prevent Michael McDowell SC from continuing to cross-examine a key witness on behalf of the Moriarty Tribunal.

Mr Justice John Hedigan has been asked to grant an injunction halting Mr McDowell's questioning of a Danish consultant, Michael Andersen, who oversaw the awarding of the State's second mobile phone licence.

The two billionaire businessmen who are seeking the ruling claim this is because of perceived bias relating to Mr McDowell's roles in public life over the past 15 years, when he served as a Tanaiste, attorney general and justice minister.

However, yesterday on the second day of the hearing in the High Court in Dublin, Brian Murray SC, for the tribunal, rejected their claims. He said the allegation of bias against both Mr McDowell -- and by extension, the tribunal itself -- "simply did not get off the ground".

Lawyers for Mr O'Brien and Mr Desmond argued that a fair-minded person would perceive an objective bias on behalf of Mr McDowell in acting on behalf of the tribunal and that the tribunal itself was therefore contaminated by this bias.

Mr McDowell's questioning of Mr Andersen continued in Dublin Castle as the High Court hearing was taking place.

The court heard that Mr Andersen was central to the upholding of the integrity of the evaluation process under which the second mobile-phone licence was awarded to Esat Digifone in 1995.

Any findings in relation to his evidence has consequences for Mr O'Brien and Mr Desmond, both of whom are former shareholders in the Esat Digifone consortium, their lawyers claimed.

The court also heard that Mr Andersen was only available to give evidence at the tribunal until November 5, due to professional and family commitments.

In his submissions on behalf of the tribunal, Mr Murray said the rules relating to allegations of bias could only be applied to a decision maker. Mr McDowell, he said, was not involved in the making of that decision (on the mobile-phone licence) and was only acting in a very limited capacity for the tribunal.

Irish Independent