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Lowry 'asked agent to get rent rise for Dunne'

FORMER Communications Minister Michael Lowry asked an estate agent to intervene about rent on a property owned by Ben Dunne, it was claimed at the Moriarty Tribunal yesterday.

Auctioneer Mark FitzGerald has claimed the minister in 1995 told him Ben Dunne wanted the minister to get the rent up from £5 per square foot to £10 per square foot and the minister wondered if Mr FitzGerald could organise it.

Mr FitzGerald in a statement read to the inquiry yesterday said he refused to interfere with the independent arbitrator of the rent dispute on Marlborough House, Marlborough Street, Dublin, where Telecom Eireann was a tenant.

He further claims the minister then asked what "we" were going to do, as Ben Dunne had contributed £170,000 to Fine Gael.

Counsel for the tribunal, John Coughlan, said this now warrants the revisiting of evidence given to the Moriarty and McCracken tribunals concerning payments made by Ben Dunne to, or connected with, Michael Lowry.

Mr Coughlan said it may also be relevant to investigations the tribunal has to make in relation to other portions of its terms of reference involving Ben Dunne.

Counsel said the information provided by Mr FitzGerald warrants "serious investigation and inquiry".

In his statement, Mr Lowry said Ben Dunne had informed him of the level of rent he was seeking and this was being arbitrated.

Mr Lowry said Mr Dunne's request was that the minister might ask Mark FitzGerald if the matter could be hurried up as a member of Mr FitzGerald's staff was acting as arbitrator.

Mr Lowry said his recollection was he followed up on the matter and had a very brief general discussion with Mark FitzGerald and related to him the information given to him by Mr Dunne.

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He said for Mr FitzGerald to suggest he was in any way attempting to influence the level of rent review was neither fair nor correct.

On the reference to the Ben Dunne contribution, Mr Lowry said Mark FitzGerald was well aware Mr Dunne was a contributor to Fine Gael and he denied he made the statement about a £170,000 contribution.

In his statement, Mark FitzGerald said in late March or early April 1995, Mr Lowry phoned him and asked whether there was a "man called Gill" working in Sherry FitzGerald who was involved with a building off O'Connell Street, Dublin.

This was a reference to Gordon Gill, who worked in the auctioneering firm, and Mr Fitzgerald said he would inquire about it.

Mr FitzGerald said he telephoned Gordon Gill at home, who told him the property was Marlborough House, or Telephone House, in Marlborough Street, and Mr Gill had been appointed arbitrator in relation to a rent dispute.

He said in the circumstances he did not think it appropriate to discuss the matter further.

Michael Lowry phoned Mr FitzGerald and asked to meet him in a Kildare Street Hotel.

Mr Lowry, he said, then told him Marlborough House had recently been bought by Ben Dunne.

The ministersaid Ben Dunne had been in touch with himand he wanted him to get the rent up from £5 per square foot to £10 per square foot and "that your man Gill" was involved and could he, Mr FitzGerald, organise it.

Mr FitzGerald said he told Mr Lowry emphatically he could not and would not and referred to Mr Gill's independent role as an arbitrator. Mr Lowry, he said, then asked "what 'we' were going to do as Ben Dunne had contributed £170,000 to Fine Gael."

Mr FitzGerald said he told Mr Lowry it was the first he heard of this contribution and he should not pursue this matter further

A few weeks after the Kildare St Hotel meeting Mr Lowry phoned Mr FitzGerald and said he wished to purchase a house but wanted to keep a low profile.

He wanted to see a mews house in the Palmerstown Road area and arranged to view it.

The tribunal heard the minister did not want anybody but Mr FitzGerald to show him the property, as he did not want anybody to know his business.

Michael Lowry arranged to meet the auctioneer in Rathgar and pulled up in his State car and transferred to Mr FitzGerald's to drive to the property.

As they drove away from the apartment, Mr Lowry again mentioned Marlborough House.

Mr FitzGerald was again emphatic in his response that he could not and would not intervene with Mr Gill.

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