Moriarty and Lowry… March 30, 2011Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
There’ll be no end of commentary today, no doubt, about the events yesterday in the Dáil, but there’s one aspect of the whole issue which is worth contemplating.
Meanwhile the mood music about Lowry should probably comfort the Deputy. There’s an awful lot of ‘Go, in the name of God, go now…’ but the caveat of ‘…not that we can make you’, keeps being slipped into conversation. So it’s a sort of weirdly bloodless rhetoric that only serves, ironically enough, to keep the pot boiling and, as was noted last week, not in a way that is to the Government’s liking.
Labour has made the running on this, and they probably have least to lose, collective cabinet responsibility notwithstanding. Yes, it’s potentially embarrassing, but with the full weight of the Fine Gael party standing between them and the events of the mid-1990s before it starts chipping away at their own Ministerial contingent in office then.
Although, in fairness to Alan Shatter – words I haven’t written before – he was entirely correct to point out a few home truths about the discourse.
Here’s Michael Lowry’s explanation from the 17 page statement issued yesterday:
I received a loan of IR₤147,000 from a long time personal friend, Mr. David Austin, in late 1996 to refurbish a property I had bought in Dublin. Mr. Austin deceased, would be known to many members of this House as a man of honour and integrity. I repaid that loan (with interest) to him a short few months later. I provided clear documentary evidence of this loan agreement to the Tribunal. The Tribunal simply rejected this evidence. Mrs. Austin’s widow gave evidence to the Tribunal to say that she was aware her late Husband was providing finance to assist me with that property. Again, the Tribunal just rejected this evidence from her. As ever, if the evidence does not accord with the allegations being made by the Tribunal, it was simply rejected.
What is abundantly clear is that I received no benefit whatsoever from this transaction. This was a loan; a loan which I repaid 14 years ago. I paid this loan back with interest in accordance with the terms of the agreement reached.
To find out what the Moriarty Report said you should consult pages 82-84 of Volume 2, Chapter 2. Let’s just say it doesn’t mince its words and is very clear in its interpretation of the money trail as related in the Irish Times this week:
The tribunal says it is satisfied that Mr Lowry received a payment of Ir£147,000 from Mr O’Brien in July 1996, stg£300,000 in March 1999 and a benefit equivalent to a payment in the form of the businessman’s support for a loan of stg£420,000 in December 1999.
It says the evidence is that there was a carefully-planned and covert payment of Ir£147,000 by Mr O’Brien to an account owned by Mr Lowry in the Isle of Man. It says Mr O’Brien’s money was passed through two accounts held by his financial adviser Aidan Phelan in the Isle of Man to a Channel Islands account owned by the late David Austin, a mutual friend of Mr O’Brien and Mr Lowry. It says subsequently a payment of Ir£147,000 was transmitted from Mr Austins account to Mr Lowry’s account in the Isle of Man.
The tribunal says that this money was “hastily repaid (by Mr Lowry to Mr Austin in February 1997) out of fear of possible disclosure at the time that the McCracken tribunal (into payments to some politicians) was established”. It rejects the suggestion that there were two separate transactions. In this scenario the money paid by Mr O’Brien, via accounts held by his financial adviser, to Mr Austin was for the purchase of a holiday home in Spain while the other was “a friendly loan arrangement” between Mr Austin and Mr Lowry for the refurbishment of a property in Blackrock, Co Dublin. It says this suggestion represents “a belated attempt retrospectively to clothe those transactions with some commercial reality, in circumstances prompted by a realisation that at some point they might be uncovered”.
The report says that from the stg£300,000 payment, stg£231,000 was used to complete the purchase of the property in Mansfield while stg£44 ,500 was paid for the deposit on the Cheadle transaction – the balance coming from the loan.
It says that the form in which the stg£300,000 was made – through the agency of Mr Phelan directly to a solicitor’s account held outside the State – “was motivated by a desire to conceal the fact that Mr O’Brien was the true source of the payment to Mr Lowry”.
The tribunal maintains that in relation to its money trail investigations “no conclusion can be arrived at, other than that repeated and clandestine courses of actions were adopted by persons intimately associated with Mr O’Brien, to confer payments or other benefits upon Mr Lowry, on behalf of Mr O’Brien”.
And here’s what the Irish Times editorial thought about this last week:
The two-volume report recalls that, had Mr Haughey not been unwell in 1999 and delayed matters, the tribunal would have concluded there was no reason to investigate the relationship between Mr O’Brien and Mr Lowry. Important information, it says, was withheld. That material only became available in 2001 and in 2009 after “false and contrived documentation” had been exposed. Payments and benefits were conveyed to Mr Lowry by persons intimately associated with Mr O’Brien. This gave rise to a reasonable inference that they were connected with his position as minister. A payment of £147,000 was made to Lowry within months of the Esat contract being signed. Payments and benefits amounting to £342,000 followed.
And here’s what the Sunday Business Post editorial thought about it this weekend…
For O’Brien, one of Ireland’s most successful businessmen, the findings relating to the payments and linking them to the licence competition are hugely damaging – no matter how he may dispute them, or how much he questions the motivation of the tribunal.
The money trail, in particular, while first presented in evidence many years ago, remains disquieting when set down in its full detail.
O’Brien and Lowry are correct, up to a point, in their portrayal of the findings as Moriarty’s opinion. But this is the opinion, based on years of research, of a judge of the High Court who was tasked with this investigation by the Oireachtas.