Sunday 17 December 2017

Moriarty report on Lowry to test Greens

Willie O'Dea: one law for me but another for Stagg and Donegan

Deep resentment: Willie O'Dea, pictured with his wife
Geraldine yesterday, reveals his upset at the role of Senator
Dan Boyle and sections of the media
Deep resentment: Willie O'Dea, pictured with his wife Geraldine yesterday, reveals his upset at the role of Senator Dan Boyle and sections of the media
Jody Corcoran

Jody Corcoran

THE Government will be back on the brink within weeks if, as expected, the report of the Moriarty Tribunal is damning of former Fine Gael minister Michael Lowry, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

Green Party leader John Gormley will come under intense pressure from within his party should he continue to accept further government support from the now-Independent TD, Mr Lowry, if the tribunal report proves to be as critical of him as predicted.

Mr Gormley last week forced the resignation of the Defence Minister Willie O'Dea, when he indicated to the Taoiseach that the Greens would withdraw from government if Mr O'Dea did not step down.

Mr O'Dea resigned on Thursday in a welter of political controversy arising from a disclosure, first reported more than three months ago, that he had sworn a false affidavit to the High Court.

The upshot of Mr Gormley's ultimatum was that the Government was plunged into the biggest crisis since its formation in 2007. The crisis was only defused by the reluctant decision of Mr O'Dea to fall on his sword.

A consequence of the position as adopted by the Greens last week, however, is that if they are to be consistent, they are obliged to maintain a similar ethical standard in the aftermath of the publication of the Moriarty report, if it is as negative of Mr Lowry as has been reported.

The Sunday Independent has been told that amid the upheaval of last week, Mr Gormley let it be known that, in the event of a damning report, he could have problems with the future support of the Government by Mr Lowry, who is one of two Independent TDs supporting the Coalition.

Yesterday sources within the Greens said the issue had not yet been discussed. A spokesman for Mr Gormley maintained that the Greens' leader had not discussed the issue of Mr Lowry's support of the Government with any member of the Cabinet.

The Government's majority would be reduced to just four votes without Mr Lowry, on the assumption that Fianna Fail TDs who have resigned the party whip will still support the Coalition.

Mr Lowry negotiated a deal to support the Fianna Fail/Greens Government after the election in 2007. But after 13 years of investigation, the report of the Moriarty Tribunal is expected to be presented to the Government within the next month.

The tribunal has been examining the controversial circumstances surrounding the granting of a mobile telephone licence to a company controlled by the businessman Denis O'Brien.

Mr Lowry was Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications in the rainbow coalition of Fine Gael, Labour and the then-Democratic Left when the licence was granted.

Under the principle of collective cabinet responsibility, the findings of the tribunal may also have repercussions for Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny and deputy leader Richard Bruton, who were both in the Cabinet of that rainbow government. Furthermore, Labour TD Ruairi Quinn was Minister for Finance at the time, and another Labour TD, Pat Rabbitte, also attended meetings of that Cabinet.

The Opposition will leave itself open to the charge of hypocrisy if it shys from any criticism of Mr Lowry, specifically in relation to his arrangement with the current Government, should the tribunal report be critical of their former cabinet colleague.

Meanwhile, the Sunday Independent also understands that Mr O'Dea was referring to a scandal surrounding Emmet Stagg of Labour when he told journalists of controversies involving former ministers which he believed were "far worse" than that which led to his resignation last week.

Mr O'Dea also had in mind a political crisis caused by former Fine Gael Defence Minister Paddy Donegan, which led to the resignation of President Cearbhall O Dalaigh but which saw Mr Donegan retain a position as a Government minister.

Mr O'Dea resigned on Thursday in a welter of political controversy arising out of a disclosure that he had sworn a false affidavit to the High Court.

When interviewed by journalists in his native Limerick on Friday, Mr O'Dea made clear his understanding that Mr Gormley had indeed demanded his head.

In that interview he also said: "I can think of other situations affecting ministers, which I won't elaborate on now, which were far worse but they survived. I recall being in a government with one of them and at the time I didn't call for his resignation -- in fact I defended him in every way possible."

It is understood Mr O'Dea was referring to the Stagg controversy. He had shared power with Mr Stagg at the time.

It is also understood that he had in mind a crisis sparked by former minister the late Paddy Donegan.

A minister of state in a Fianna Fail/Labour Government in 1994, Mr Stagg was forced to admit that gardai had found him loitering in an area of the Phoenix Park in Dublin which was used by male prostitutes.

Mr Stagg was questioned by the gardai but no charges were filed against him. His resignation seemed imminent, but eventually the then- Taoiseach Albert Reynolds said "charity and restraint" should be shown.

In his recently published biography, Mr Reynolds said: "When the Labour minister of state Emmet Stagg was exposed in the press for being involved in a sex scandal, I sent out a message to Fianna Fail members not to join in the controversy. I knew Labour would be embarrassed enough. Calls were made for Stagg to resign, but he refused to do so."

A year after the scandal, Mr Stagg was appointed Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications in the newly formed rainbow coalition government. He is still a sitting Labour TD.

In October 1976, the then- Defence Minister Paddy Donegan made a controversial speech on an official visit to new kitchen facilities in an army barracks at Mullingar.

He described as a "thundering disgrace" President Cearbhall O Dalaigh's refusal to sign legislation into law, instead using his powers to refer it to the Supreme Court.

The then-Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave refused Mr Donegan's resignation, and instead Mr O Dalaigh resigned as President.

The controversy badly damaged the Government's reputation.

Mr Paddy Donegan subsequently became Minister for Lands, and in 1977 he served briefly as the Minister for Fisheries.

Sunday Independent

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