FINE Gael Cabinet ministers – including Michael Noonan, Dr James Reilly and Phil Hogan – continued to meet disgraced TD Michael Lowry even after he was castigated by the Moriarty Tribunal.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny last night stood by his right-hand man, Mr Hogan, amid furore over the minister’s meeting with Mr Lowry around the time the tribunal’s final report was published.
The embarrassing controversy over government contacts with individuals criticised by the Moriarty Tribunal widened yesterday. Despite Mr Kenny calling for Mr Lowry to resign as a TD in the wake of the Moriarty report, Fine Gael ministers continued to meet with him.
The report was published on March 22 last year, just two weeks after the Coalition government was formed.
Mr Hogan met with Mr Lowry just days after the tribunal accused him of a "cynical and venal abuse of office". Two Cabinet colleagues expressed concerns about Mr Hogan’s meeting with Mr Lowry, just 48 hours before Mr Hogan said he had "no truck" with anybody criticised by the report.
The minister met the Independent TD as part of a delegation with a plastics recycling company, Filmco, which was seeking to save 34 jobs.
Heritage Minister Jimmy Deenihan and Social Welfare Minister Joan Burton said it would have been better if the meeting had not taken place.
But Mr Kenny was in no way critical of Mr Hogan, his close friend, who masterminded the Taoiseach’s defeat of the heave against him in Fine Gael two years ago.
The Taoiseach merely "noted" Mr Hogan's explanation of the "purpose and objective" of the meeting.
"The Taoiseach also notes that Minister Hogan unequivocally and clearly responded to the findings of the Moriarty Tribunal," a spokesman said.
The Taoiseach spoke with Mr Hogan early yesterday about his meeting with Mr Lowry.
Mr Kenny has not held any meetings with Mr Lowry since entering office.
But it emerged Mr Lowry was also granted meetings with Mr Noonan and Dr Reilly.
Most other ministers were able to categorically rule out any meetings with the North Tipperary TD.
Every Labour cabinet minister said they had not met him.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter's officials were unable to say if the minister met with Mr Lowry over the past year.
Mr Lowry was lobbying for a €460m casino in Co Tipperary. But Mr Shatter blocked the plans with new legislation to regulate gambling that would rule out a casino on the scale envisaged at Two-Mile-Borris in Mr Lowry's constituency.
Mr Noonan said he had no formal meetings with Mr Lowry over the past year.
However, he was present at an October 2011 meeting with youth organisation Foroige, which was also attended by Mr Lowry.
"The minister, if at all possible, accommodates requests from deputies and senators of all parties for meetings," a spokesman said.
Dr Reilly met with Mr Lowry in November as part of a delegation lobbying for a community hospital in Thurles, Co Tipperary.
But the meeting was also attended by Fine Gael TD Noel Coonan and Labour junior minister Alan Kelly, who also represent the constituency.
The timing of the meeting with Mr Hogan caused controversy yesterday as it came just six days after the publication of Moriarty Report.
Defending the meeting, Mr Lowry said he has had access to other ministers.
"The company had severe difficulties with farmland plastic waste, they had a difficulty with the national policy with respect of collection of that waste, 34 jobs were lost.
"They had issues that they wished to raise with the minister, the minister agreed to meet them a number of weeks previously as that issue was urgent, the meeting went ahead," he said.
The meeting was held with two representatives of Filmco, three officials from the department, Mr Hogan and Mr Lowry.
"Last night, the Department of the Environment published the minutes of the meeting."
Meanwhile, Mr Hogan and Mr O'Brien had a brief encounter at Mount Juliet Hotel last month.
The minister was having breakfast in the hotel when Mr O'Brien entered the restaurant.
"He did briefly bump into Denis O'Brien. They bumped into each other and exchanged pleasantries. They spoke for a matter of moments," a spokesperson said.
Mr Hogan holds honorary membership of Mount Juliet Golf and Country Club in Thomastown, Co Kilkenny, where Mr O'Brien has a holiday home.
Mr Hogan's officials insist he has not held any official meeting Mr O'Brien as a minister.