Friday 22 November 2019

No relation to 'Minority Report' -- but it cost as much

What: The Moriarty Report.

Is it like that brilliant film, The Minority Report? Alas, no. It's the massive 2,400-page final report from the Moriarty Tribunal, which was set up 14 years ago to investigate certain payments to former Taoiseach Charles Haughey and former Communications Minister Michael Lowry. There's nothing minor about this huge yoke, which makes War and Peace look like an Enid Blyton book.

Wait a minute -- did you say 14 years? Yep. The Moriarty Tribunal was set up way back in the dim and distant past, on September 26, 1997, to be precise, by Ireland's then Ard-Ri, Bertie Ahern, and was given the grandiose title of Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Payments to Politicians and Related Matters. And it was set up as a response to an earlier months-long inquiry, which had established that payments to the above-mentioned duo had been made by supermarket supremo Ben Dunne.

Why was it called Moriarty? Is it an homage to Sherlock Holmes' evil nemesis in the spirit of unravelling complex tales of skulduggery? No, although it would be cool if it was. It's simply named after the presiding legal-eagle, Mr Justice Micheal Moriarty, who was lumbered with chairing the tribunal. The poor divil spent the bones of 14 long years holed up in Dublin Castle, listening to endless minutiae of financial transactions and also fending off attacks on the whole process by various hostile individuals.

Gracious, did he know it was going to be such a torturous process? No.

When he published his first report in 2006, which took lumps out of Charlie Haughey, it was widely expected that the final report would follow a year later. But legal wrangling -- it was embroiled in no fewer than eight legal actions -- put a spanner in the works and delayed the whole process until now.

So was there much fanfare in advance of the report's publication? There was damn-all, as it happened. The report fell from the sky just after 11am on Tuesday, catching politicians, the public and the media totally on the hop.

There must've been much rejoicing in political circles that it had finally been delivered after such a long gestation? Like hell there was rejoicing. Given that the central character in the drama is a former Fine Gael minister, the timing couldn't have been worse for the brand-new government.

Did it overshadow everything else? Totally. Taoiseach Enda didn't even get a chance to bask in the glory of returning from the White House with a visit from Obama in the bag.

So was Judge Moriarty cross with anyone in his report? Oh he was very ticked off indeed with the bold Michael Lowry, now Independent TD for Tipperary North, and had plenty to say on the matter. He excoriated Mr Lowry's actions involving the awarding of the lucrative mobile phone licence as "disgraceful" and "insidious", and claiming that the politician passed "substantial" information to businessman Denis O'Brien that benefited the Esat bid.

Goodness. Michael Lowry must be mortified by this savaging. Is he going to resign his seat? Well, despite various political colleagues including Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin calling for his head, the TD's going nowhere. On Thursday he pronounced himself to be "sickened and saddened" by the report's findings, but insisted the report is "unfactual" and refused to resign. "I've done absolutely nothing wrong," he stated.

And how did the other characters featured in this drama react? An irate Ben Dunne went balubas on RTé's Liveline and challenged Micheal Moriarty to put him "behind bars" if the judge believed what he had put in print about him, while Denis O'Brien angrily dismissed the report as "flawed" and "full of hearsay".

So everyone was unhappy, then? Not everyone -- the opposition were gleeful that they'd been handed such a big stick to beat the new crowd with, and both Micheal Martin and Gerry Adams got stuck into Enda in the Dáil.

What did Enda do? Initially he dodged the issue, but then announced that the whole yoke was off to the DPP and that a Dáil debate on the report would take place next week.

By the way, no doubt this whole palaver cost a few bob? Quite a few -- €150m of them.

Shocking. Shouldn't a Tribunal be set up to examine this outrageous cost? You must be joking.

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