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Government rift deepens over FG links to O'Brien

THE rift in Government over Fine Gael's links to businessman Denis O'Brien has grown deeper.

Labour ministers and a growing number of Fine Gael figures are uneasy at the tycoon's apparent access in Government circles.

Joan Burton and Brendan Howlin have appeared critical of Mr O'Brien, as have senior FG figures Charlie Flanagan and Lucinda Creighton.

Foreign Affairs Minister and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore will have to decide whether Mr O'Brien, who was found to have given hundreds of thousands of euro to shamed ex-FG minister Michael Lowry, should be invited to a major Irish economic forum.



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Now, Housing Minister Jan O'Sullivan has joined the list of senior Labour figures to express unease, saying she would not put the billionaire on the invite list for the Global Economic Forum in Dublin next year.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny was less forthright than his Labour colleagues and refused to rule out an invitation.

The Fine Gael leader said Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore was working on the guestlist. "The Government will reflect on what it does for any future forums," he said.

Mr Kenny said the "matter hasn't been considered at all".

He also said he did not send out the invitations for attendance at the event at the New York Stock Exchange, where he was photographed with Mr O'Brien and his business associates.

Health Minister James Reilly has said Mr O'Brien is entitled to "due process" over the findings of the Moriarty Tribunal. Dr Reilly said it will be "a matter for the Taoiseach and the Tanaiste" to decide if Mr O'Brien is invited to the next forum.

The Moriarty report has been referred to the gardai, DPP and Revenue to consider, he added.

"I accept the tribunal's findings, but aren't people entitled to due process?" Dr Reilly said. He added that none of the findings of tribunals "are used in law".

The correct authorities to deal with this are the DPP, the Criminal Assets Bureau and the Revenue Commissioners, the minister said.

His comments came days after two Labour Cabinet members spoke out.

Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin said "there should be a consequence" for people "against whom adverse findings are adduced by a tribunal of inquiry".

Social Protection Minister Joan Burton called on the Government to review its interaction with Mr O'Brien.

The Moriarty Report found that former Fine Gael communications minister Michael Lowry "secured the winning" of the country's second mobile phone licence for Mr O'Brien in the 1990s. It also found that Mr O'Brien had provided payments to Mr Lowry.

comurphy @herald.ie


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