Saturday 25 January 2020

Shatter under pressure to say if Lowry meeting went ahead

Charlie Flanagan: said row had
become a 'storm in a teacup'
Charlie Flanagan: said row had become a 'storm in a teacup'

Michael Brennan and Colm Kelpie

JUSTICE Minister Alan Shatter is coming under pressure to reveal whether he met disgraced Independent TD Michael Lowry over a Las Vegas-style casino in the midlands.

The Government has been embarrassed by revelations that Mr Lowry managed to meet three Fine Gael ministers after he had been castigated by the Moriarty Tribunal.

But it has emerged that Mr Lowry also sought a meeting on behalf of the promoters of the project with Mr Shatter last October, after he unveiled new laws effectively ruling out the super casino.

The venue at Two-mile Borris, 9km from Thurles, Co Tipperary, was being planned in true Las Vegas style. But the casino element of the plan has since been scaled down in light of Mr Shatter's new legislation.

Although Mr Shatter's department confirmed last year that the meeting request had been received, he has so far not responded to queries about whether he actually went ahead and met Mr Lowry.

Yesterday, an angry Mr Lowry refused to comment about whether he had met Mr Shatter to lobby him about the €460m casino project

"I have things to do, I have positive things to do and I'm not interested in reading the sh*t that ye're writing anymore," he said.

Controversial

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, who personally moved the Dail motion calling on Mr Lowry to resign as a TD last year due to his "completely unacceptable" conduct, has not commented on the controversy because he is on leave.

But Labour sources said the party view was that it would have been better if the meeting between Mr Lowry and Environment Minister Phil Hogan just days after the Moriarty Tribunal report had not taken place.

This was the same view expressed by both Social Protection Minister Joan Burton and Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan earlier this week.

Labour Dublin Mid West TD Robert Dowds said yesterday he would like to see the Cabinet give a clear direction on meetings with people who had been the subject of negative tribunal findings.

Last night, Labour Galway East TD Colm Keaveney strongly condemned a controversial tweet from Fine Gael parliamentary party chairman Charlie Flanagan, who questioned if Ms Burton had a "government death wish". He said it was "cyber bullying" and called for the tweet to be withdrawn.

"It's a bad example of the conduct of politics when you have children being subjected to cyber bullying on Facebook and Twitter. What you tweet and who you meet are serious," he said.

But last night, Mr Flanagan said the matter had been blown out of all proportion.

"I didn't mean any offence. I felt Joan jumped in very quickly and was quick to fan the flames on what was a storm in a teacup," he said.

Another Labour TD last night downplayed the controversy by pointing out Mr Flanagan was not a government minister -- and therefore his comments did not carry the same weight. "If it was Leo Varadkar, it might be different," he said.

A date for the parliamentary party's annual general meeting is due to be announced soon -- and sources were not ruling out rival nominations for the position of chairman last night.

Mr Lowry is likely to benefit once more in his constituency by the revelations of his meetings with Fine Gael ministers. Some voters in Tipperary North were drifting away from him in the belief he would no longer be able to secure access as an opposition TD in the new Dail.

Abusive

But a Fine Gael source said that Mr Lowry would be able to point to his meetings with Mr Hogan, Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Health Minister James Reilly.

"He'll run again and this will help. He has a cult following. The more you say about him, the more you harden support for him," the source said.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that staff working in Mr Hogan's constituency office in Kilkenny were subjected to a torrent of abusive phone calls and insulting letters in the run-up to the deadline for registration for the household charge last Saturday.

While the Kilkenny constituency office is usually open Monday to Friday, it was closed on Monday last to allow the workers to recuperate.

Irish Independent

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