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Political standards watchdog focuses on FG's O'Brien links

A POLITICAL standards watchdog has placed renewed focus on the links between businessman Denis O'Brien and Fine Gael since the publication of the Moriarty Tribunal report.

The Global Integrity Report on Ireland gave the country an overall "strong" rating of 80 out of 100 on political transparency. But it only gave 53 out of 100 for transparency in political funding -- which is now the subject of forthcoming legislation.

It said that the current Government's commitments were perceived by some as unclear despite ambitious proposed legislation.

Although it did not name Mr O'Brien or former communications minister Michael Lowry, it did say: "An example is the continued association with the businessman at the heart of the Moriarty Tribunal after its report was published."

Mr O'Brien's relationship with the Government has come under scrutiny since he was pictured last month on a platform with Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the opening of the New York Stock Exchange.

Mr Kenny has insisted he did not send out the invitations for the event.

Mr O'Brien, whose Esat Digifone company won the second mobile phone licence in 1996, has rejected the Moriarty Tribunal's finding that he made payments of some stgĀ£447,000 to Mr Lowry.

Whistleblowers

Global Integrity yesterday cited the Moriarty Tribunal's finding that a former minister for communications "not only influenced, but delivered, the result" for the award of a large procurement bid to a mobile phone company.

And it referred to the "businessman" Mr O'Brien, whom the tribunal found had given donations and loan support to the politician concerned.

Global Integrity was established as a non-profit organisation in Washington in 2005 with the aim of promoting "accountable, transparent, and honest government" around the world.

It also gave poor marks -- 30 out of 100 -- for the checks and balances on our judges, noting there was no judicial disciplinary agency and no formal disciplinary procedures.

And it gave Ireland low scores for safeguards against conflict of interest in the civil service, and protection for whistleblowers.

The Global Integrity Report 2011 covers 31 countries, including developed nations such as the US, Ireland and Germany, as well as countries such as Algeria, Ukraine and China.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Michael Noonan told RTE yesterday he did not want to get drawn into what he said was a battle between Mr O'Brien and the O'Reilly family for control of Independent News and Media, the publishers of this newspaper.

On the subject of Mr Kenny being pictured with Mr O'Brien, the finance minister said it was impossible to control who turned up at an event.

Irish Independent