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Kenny silences TD over Lowry tapes

ENDA Kenny shocked Fine Gael deputies and senators last week when he used the parliamentary party meeting to respond to a request from Kerry TD Brendan Griffin that he seriously address the issue of the Lowry tapes.

ENDA Kenny shocked Fine Gael deputies and senators last week when he used the parliamentary party meeting to respond to a request from Kerry TD Brendan Griffin that he seriously address the issue of the Lowry tapes.

Mr Kenny took the unprecedented step of informing the assembled TDs and senators that Mr Griffin had asked him to re-open the Moriarty tribunal in light of the latest revelations – then quickly rejected the request.

However, Mr Griffin has confirmed to the Sunday Independent that his letter – which he was taken aback to find the subject of Mr Kenny's public address – did not make any such demand.

Contacted by this newspaper, Mr Griffin confirmed that he had sent a private letter to Mr Kenny concerning the party's response to the Lowry revelations.

He said: "I did not specifically ask the Taoiseach to reopen the Moriarty tribunal, I asked him to take decisive action to ensure that this matter is probed in an open, public and transparent way to protect the integrity of the Oireachtas and any future Oireachtas inquiries."

Subsequently, a number of Fine Gael deputies to whom the Sunday Independent has spoken backed Mr Griffin's call.

Yesterday, the Fine Gael Transport Minister Leo Varadkar became the first minister to break the wall of cabinet silence surrounding the Lowry tapes. He commended the gardai on their intent to fully investigate the matters contained in the tapes.

Speaking to this newspaper, Mr Varadkar welcomed the recent comments by the Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan about progress in investigating the Lowry tapes.

''I do agree that the gardai should investigate the tapes. I don't think this is a matter for the Government. It is really a matter for the gardai and I welcome the comments by the Garda Commissioner.''

Mr Varadkar rejected a suggestion made by the Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin that the Moriarty tribunal should examine the tapes for a period of no longer than three months.

"It would be ridiculous to re-open the tribunal, which has met and made its findings,'' Mr Varadkar said.

Mr Callinan told RTE news last week that the gardai had already engaged with Kevin Phelan, the land agent who provided the telephone recordings to the Sunday Independent.

He said the gardai needed to engage with him in a more meaningful fashion "to tease out precisely what's been spoken about" and "to contextualise what's being said and to see where we advance matters".

Mr Lowry's close relationship with Mr Kenny and the Environment Minister Phil Hogan has created a chill factor within Fine Gael.

Concern is also growing over Fine Gael's apparent refusal to distance itself from Mr Lowry.

The controversy originated in the publication in this newspaper, on February 24 last, of the transcript of a conversation between Michael Lowry and a business associate, Kevin Phelan, in which Mr Lowry admitted making a £250,000 sterling payment to Mr Phelan, something which Mr Lowry subsequently confirmed.

This conflicted with his evidence to the Moriarty Tribunal, in which he admitted only a £64,000 payment.

According to Fine Gael sources, there has been unease among some of the younger deputies at the manner in which the Lowry revelations have been dismissed.

"That chat has been happening," said one.

Another said the indication that the tribunal was misled was "effectively being ignored by the Oireachtas," and that a number of young TDs are "not comfortable at all with this being fobbed off".

It was in this spirit that Brendan Griffin wrote to the Taoiseach on April 5 last.

"I don't think Brendan Griffin was asking to restore the Moriarty tribunal", one Fine Gael TD said, "but he believes we can't let this go without dealing with it."

Another Fine Gael TD said he was "surprised" that a private letter had been raised publicly. If Brendan Griffin had wanted to raise a matter with the parliamentary party, there is a standard procedure – circulate a written statement to members, give them time to assess it, then raise it publicly for open discussion.

The TD said: "No one wants to open the tribunal, but that's not the only way." He said that failure to tackle such serious matters was "damaging the body politic".

There was no further discussion of the controversy, once Mr Kenny finished his remarks, but privately some TDs used the word "bizarre" to describe the public reply to a private query.

Speculation on Mr Kenny's motives included the possibility that "he had a rush of blood to the head" or that he was letting TDs know that dissent on this issue might lead to a public slapdown.

Irish Independent