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Monday 18 December 2017

People's verdict: Moriarty got it right

Poll: no more costly tribunals as most don't believe Lowry, O'Brien

JODY CORCORAN, MAEVE SHEEHAN and RONALD QUINLAN

An overwhelming majority agree with the findings of the Moriarty Tribunal and say they do not believe either Denis O'Brien or Michael Lowry, the main protagonists who have embarked on a campaign to attack the report, according to a Sunday Independent/Quantum Research poll.

After a week during which Mr O'Brien and Mr Lowry attempted to raise uncertainty as to the accuracy of the report, and sought to question the motivation of, and cast doubt on the expertise of its author, today's nationwide telephone poll provides the first definitive assessment of public opinion -- and it is hugely supportive of Mr Justice Michael Moriarty.

The comments of Mr O'Brien and Mr Lowry, in response to the report, prompted Justice Minister Alan Shatter to intervene on Friday night to criticise what he called "unprecedented", "intemperate" and "unacceptable" attacks on the judiciary.

Mr Shatter said that statements made in the wake of the report were intended to bring the judiciary into disrepute and to undermine public confidence in the administration of justice.

However, our poll has also found a significant degree of public disquiet as to the value for money of the Moriarty Tribunal, which it is estimated will cost up to €250m, and, more generally, in relation to a tribunal of inquiry as a method of investigation.

The poll, conducted on Friday, also found a huge level of doubt as to whether anybody will be successfully prosecuted arising out of the publication of the Moriarty report.

In summary, the poll found 81 per cent agreed with the findings of Mr Justice Moriarty; 87 per cent did not believe Mr O'Brien and 94 per cent did not believe Mr Lowry.

The Sunday Independent can also reveal today that 10 officers from the Criminal Assets Bureau have been assigned to read the 2,400-page report.

The CAB is expected to decide "within weeks" whether to launch an investigation into the findings.

The Moriarty Tribunal found that Michael Lowry, a former Fine Gael minister, assisted businessman Denis O'Brien in his application to secure a mobile phone contract for Esat Digifone.

The report concluded it was "beyond doubt" the then Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications, Mr Lowry, gave "substantive information to Denis O'Brien, of significant value and assistance to him in securing the licence".

The report also says a payment of Stg£147,000 (€167,000) was "moved from Mr O'Brien's account to Mr Lowry's account in the Isle of Man" in a markedly clandestine and covert manner.

It said the absence of any commercial purpose for this payment, and the secretive manner of its disclosure, meant the tribunal had concluded the payment was made to Mr Lowry, via third parties, by Mr O'Brien "during a period when Mr Lowry held public office, in circumstances giving rise to a reasonable inference that the motive for making the payment was connected with the public office of minister".

In all, the report finds that three large sums of money, which amounted to almost Stg£900,000 (€1.02m), went from Mr O'Brien to Mr Lowry; two of these were payments, the third was support for a loan.

Mr Lowry has described the Moriarty report as "factually wrong and deliberately misleading" and has said that Mr Justice Moriarty "has outrageously abused the tribunal's ability to form opinions which are not substantiated by evidence or fact".

Mr O'Brien has said the findings were "fundamentally flawed" and that it was "incumbent on the judiciary to investigate the conduct of Mr Justice Moriarty and the tribunal legal team for the manner in which they conducted themselves" during the inquiry.

He also said there was no evidence that he or his company won the licence unfairly or made any payments to Mr Lowry. He said he had never given Mr Lowry "one red cent".

In an interview on RTE News, Mr O'Brien subsequently went further to claim, extraordinarily, that the judiciary had put a "ring of steel" around Mr Justice Moriarty because they knew "he was never up to the job of actually writing this report".

In another interview on the RTE radio programme, Today With Pat Kenny, Mr O'Brien went even further to suggest, bizarrely, that the report was not entirely written by Mr Justice Moriarty -- but that the judge may have been assisted by the tribunal lawyer Jerry Healy.

"If you look at the language of the report, it's not Michael Moriarty's language. It's Jerry Healy's language. I don't believe that he wrote all of this report at all, and if you look stylistically at the report, and the language, it's not a judge's language."

Mr Shatter made his intervention after these comments were made.

Several attempts to elicit a response from Mr Justice Moriarty and Mr Healy proved unsuccessful. Legal sources say it is now open to both men to sue either Mr O'Brien or RTE, or both, for defamation.

Yesterday, Pat Kenny told the Sunday Independent: "I said it a few times throughout the interview that Judge Moriarty is a man of the highest probity. It's a thing we do when there's something that might be slightly controversial, to make it clear to the listeners that 'look, these are the views of the interviewee'.

"It [legal disclaimer] is a fairly standard thing that we know that when things have been said that a lot of people would disagree with, particularly when you say things about a High Court judge, obviously you have to be very careful in making sure that RTE's position, and the editorial position of the programme, is absolutely clear."

Mr Kenny also said the interview "gave listeners an insight into what Denis O'Brien was thinking, and more importantly, where he might take it from here".

A spokesman for RTE said that all of the interviews Mr O'Brien gave to RTE were conducted live. He said RTE had no comment to make on "legal issues" which may or may not arise.

It is understood, however, that neither Mr Justice Moriarty, nor Mr Healy, has raised any legal issue with RTE.

On the substantive issues, it is clear that public opinion is with the tribunal, and its chairman. Asked if they believed Mr O'Brien gave money to Mr Lowry, 87 per cent said yes, 13 per cent said no; asked if they believed Mr Lowry helped Mr O'Brien secure the licence, 89 per cent said yes, 11 per cent said no; asked if Mr Lowry should now resign as a TD for Tipperary North, 88 per cent said yes, 12 per cent said no.

However, the public is somewhat sceptical as to whether all of the facts were established: 55 per cent said yes, 45 per cent said no.

There is huge cynicism in relation to broader questions surrounding the Moriarty Tribunal and tribunals in general: asked if they believed anybody would be successfully prosecuted following the Moriarty Tribunal, 91 per cent said no, nine per cent said yes; 88 per cent said the taxpayers did not get value for money and 67 per cent said tribunals of inquiry should not be used in the future.

Sunday Independent

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