THE STANDARDS in Public Office Commission (SIPO) is to be asked to investigate the actions of Tipperary North TD Michael Lowry, following his failure to include his interests in certain lands in the UK in recent Dáil registers of members’ interests.
SIPO will be asked to investigate Lowry’s actions, and whether he has breached his obligations of the Ethics in Public Office Acts 1995 and 2001, by the Dáil’s committee on members’ interests, which met this morning.
That committee said it had received 380 complaints from the public about Lowry’s failure to declare his half-share in about 20 acres of land in Wigan.
Lowry claimed he had omitted the land from his recent declarations of members’ interests because it was “worthless”, but an investigation by the Irish Examiner led to its investigative correspondent Conor Ryan being told that an offer of €6.7 million for the site “would be cheap”.
The Ethics in Public Office Act 1995 requires Oireachtas members to disclose their land interests in the annual Register of Members’ Interests, and says any land worth over €13,000 (previously IR£10,000) must be included.
Lowry has since sought to amend his declarations so that the Wigan land, originally bought by Vineacre (a British-based company owned by Lowry and Thurles developer Liam Carroll) and Carroll individually in 2001. Lowry’s name replaced that of Vineacre in 2003.
Lowry told Tipp FM last month that the land was “worthless” and had not provided him with any rental income since its purchase, and it was unlikely to unless it was rezoned. He said the land has become overgrown and has not been tended to.
The chairman of the Dáil committee on members’ interests, independent TD Thomas Pringle, this afternoon said his committee believed SIPO was “better placed to conduct an investigation into these allegations”.
This was because the Ethics in Public Office legislation “provides for an Inquiry Officer to assist the Commission in its work” – with no such function or support available to the Dáil committee itself.
SIPO’s investigation into the matter, when finished, will be sent back to the Dáil committee for its final ruling, as the legislation allows only that committee to issue any punishment or sanction over breaches of the ethics laws.
The committee has the power to suspend members from the Dáil for up to 30 sitting days.