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Dáil Éireann

In full: Micheál Martin’s Dáil statement on the Moriarty Tribunal

Here’s the full text of Micheál Martin’s statement to the Dáil on the Moriarty Report, delivered this afternoon.

The following is the full text of Micheál Martin’s statement to the Dáil on the Moriarty Report.

I welcome the publication of the final report of the Tribunal of Inquiry into Payments to Politicians and Related Matters.

Mr Justice Moriarty had an extremely difficult task. He investigated complex matters and faced active hostility from some individuals before the Tribunal. He has done his work with integrity, commitment and skill and he has produced a very comprehensive report. I believe that the Dáil and the public should thank him for his efforts.

This is a report of real significance. Justice Moriarty clearly sets out illicit, inappropriate and irregular behaviour which has done great damage and may perhaps cause much more.

This report exposes serious malpractice and corruption. It is not based on the unfounded opinions of one judge – it is based on the evidence.

The report addresses two major issues relating to Deputy Michael Lowry. In relation to improper support he received from Ben Dunne, the evidence of his attempts to seek to corrupt an independent process in favour of Mr Dunne is absolutely clear. However the public policy implications of this and the unanswered questions are very limited.

The main issue of focus in the report is, as a result, the awarding of the second GSM licence. This was the largest commercial contract ever awarded by the Irish State. The report makes it abundantly clear that the integrity of this process was disgracefully compromised. The State may yet be exposed to punitive compensation claims from losing consortiums, some of whom appeared before the Supreme Court last week.

This report is of course a deep indictment of the conduct of Deputy Lowry both as a Minister and in the years following his reluctant resignation. In spite of the deeply cynical spinning by government representatives, this report encompasses far more than the damage caused by one rogue politician.

The facts are that the license competition was allowed to develop in a way that directly went against the rules agreed by the then government; it included the targeting of Fine Gael by a consortium through a conspicuous campaign of financial support, and; basic procedures were set aside in signing off the award in favour of that consortium. When legitimate questions were raised by another bidder they were dismissed out of hand by the then Taoiseach and leader of Fine Gael. During all of this, six members of the current government were sitting at the cabinet table. Another member of the current cabinet, Minister Hogan, was chairman of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party and was directly involved in receiving donations covered by the Tribunal’s report

The report is a direct challenge to every member of this House to treat its findings with the seriousness they deserve. It contains a lot of detail, but this cannot be allowed to be an excuse for failing to accept clear conclusions.

Over the last week the report and Justice Moriarty have been subjected to a sustained attempt to undermine them. This has had two separate but equally serious elements.

Firstly there has been the direct assault of Denis O’Brien, Michael Lowry and others. One of Ireland’s richest men, and the owner of substantial media interests, has announced his intention to campaign against Justice Moriarty and his belief that there is a conspiracy against him and Michael Lowry which is being aided by the entire judicial system. Deputy Lowry’s attacks have been equally fierce.

Secondly, there is a sustained effort to undermine the impact of the report through attempting to misrepresent its findings as being purely about one rogue minister. The government benches are full of people who have built their careers on posturing about both real and imagined ethical issues. When confronted with a report as serious as this their response has been a combination of silence, misrepresentation and minimisation.

In this House, the handling of the report by government has been cynical in the extreme – outside of this House it has been a disgrace.

There are 112 government deputies, but vast swathes of the airwaves have been left without a Fine Gael or Labour representative during the last week. It took four days before any member of government could be found to criticise the escalating attacks on the judiciary – and not one member of government who participated in the process of awarding the license has been willing to address their own role or knowledge other than to claim exoneration.

The Taoiseach came into this House last week and said that he and the six ministers would answer questions – this pledge was then abandoned, before word reached us this morning that the Taoiseach would, in fact, answer some questions. I welcome the u-turn, but would ask that the prevarication now stop and arrangements be made for all of the Ministers involved to be questioned.

While saying that he had not read the report and could not comment, the Taoiseach claimed here that “the report exonerates party leaders and members of the Cabinet”. Having praised his own commitment to transparency and honesty in everything only a few weeks ago, he has repeatedly refused to even acknowledge what the report says about the fundraising activities which he and other Fine Gael ministers participated in. Media management has been the main priority – witnessed again this morning when the media were told about his u-turn on taking questions before the opposition whips.

The efforts of Fine Gael spokespeople to claim that the Taoiseach has been forthright and energetic in this response to the report are nonsense. The Taoiseach informed the House that the first report of the Moriarty Tribunal had waited for over a month before it was discussed here. What he failed to state was that it was published a few days before Christmas and there were no opposition calls for an earlier debate. He failed to state that the interim Flood Tribunal and final McCracken Tribunal reports were both debated on the first sitting day following their publication. He also failed to mention the number of times he and other members of government demanded immediate statements and questions on daily evidence before tribunals.

Minister Pat Rabbitte is already recorded in history as the Deputy most likely to sweep any passing rumour onto the record of this House in his now abandoned quest to rock foundations – yet he and the Labour party have been fully complicit in the strategy of minimising the significance of the report. The notion that a Labour Party minister can give clarity on internal Fine Gael affairs is an insult to the public and the role of this parliament.

The other former ethics hawks who line the government’s benches have been studiously non-judgmental and desperate in their attempts to avoid the topic. The only thing they have been loud on is claiming the right to decide who does and does not have the moral standing to even ask questions of Fine Gael and Labour.

I would say to deputies who make up the largest majority ever seen in this state – you have the numbers to shout anyone down if you want to. You have the numbers to vote through or block any business. If you want to fill our debates with sycophantic barracking in support of your leaders and against your opponents you will be able to do this. The challenge for you is whether you will show yourselves to be capable of putting aside the self-righteousness we saw during the election campaign and adhere to the standards we discussed on the first day of the Dáil term. We will see a lot from how you behave in this debate, and how you react to legitimate questions no matter how uncomfortable they are for you.

In relation to the judiciary, I would like to repeat my words of last week that I abhor the conspiracy theories and attacks which have been directed at the Irish judicial system in the last week. They are not perfect, but they are a bulwark of our democratic system and we should not stand back and see them attacked in this manner.

I feel we should also acknowledge the work of journalists who have taken considerable professional risks in pursuing some of the matters addressed in this report. In one case, a journalist has been subject to what can only be described as a legal vendetta which he has had to face down at potentially great financial cost. Politicians often complain about the standards in journalism, but we should be willing to acknowledge major public service when it occurs.

When the government of Fine Gael, Labour and the Tánaiste and Minister Rabbitte’s Democratic Left was formed, one of the early items on its agenda was a consideration of how the second GSM licence was to be awarded. On March 2nd 1995 a memorandum went to cabinet which set out the process and also guidelines for how ministers should behave during the competition. It was due to be a sealed process which would be entirely non-political from start to end. The role of ministers was to be guardians of the process, reserving for themselves the final decision on the licence as a protection for the integrity of the competition.

The guidelines, which were directed at all ministers and not just Deputy Lowry, said that any meetings with bidders should have at least two extra witnesses present, that these should be recorded immediately and that social exchanges with bidders should be avoided. Cabinet agreed that this was essential to ensure the transparency and objectivity of the competition.

It is in the major deviations from the content and spirit of the process agreed on March 2nd 1995 that the most serious issues arise both for Deputy Michael Lowry and ministers of the then government.

The uncontested facts of the Tribunal’s report show that a minister who was supposed to know nothing about the competition sought and received information from officials. They show that he pushed the process in the direction of one of the bidders. They show that he sought to influence at very least the then Taoiseach with a false claim concerning supposed Fianna Fáil links to another bidder. They show that a targeted programme of financial donations to Fine Gael and engagement with Fine Gael politicians were a core part of the strategy of the same bidder. They show that enough was known about this that Cabinet should have insisted on a detailed report on the process before a decision was made.

No twisting by Deputy Lowry, any minister or anyone else can get away from these facts.

On 3rd December 1996, following on from the announcement that Dunnes Stores had paid for work on the Minister for Transport and Communication’s home which had not been declared to the Revenue, the current Taoiseach, Deputy Kenny said “I very much regret the departure of Deputy Michael Lowry from Cabinet. I have known him for many years both as a member of Fine Gael and as a Government colleague and he is a man of the highest integrity and honour.”

The assessment in this report of Deputy Lowry is far less complimentary. It amounts to a shocking indictment of his behaviour. Commenting on his motives or actions, the report says of Deputy Lowry;

- that it is “beyond doubt” that he gave “substantive information to Denis O’Brien, of significant value and assistance to him in securing the licence”;
- that he had “irregular interactions with interested parties at its most sensitive stages, sought and received substantive information on emerging trends (and) made his preference as between the leading candidates known”;
- that he “conferred a benefit on Mr Denis O’Brien, a person who made payments to Mr Lowry”;
- that he “not only influenced, but delivered, the result”, when Esat secured the mobile phone licence;
- that he was an “insidious and pervasive influence” on the licensing process;
- that he had engaged in a “cynical and venal abuse of office”;
- that he was involved in attempting to influence an arrangement that was “profoundly corrupt to a degree that was nothing short of breathtaking”.

Deputy Lowry wants us to put aside the report and believe instead a series of explanations that, in fact, explain nothing. It is not credible to ask us to see his pattern of actions during the competition and accept that he met with Mr O’Brien at the most sensitive time without either of them mentioning the competition. It is not credible to ask us to ignore the £147,000 paid into an Isle of Man account for his benefit but returned on the day that the McCracken Tribunal was established. It is not credible to expect us to ignore the English property deals and falsified documentation. It is not credible at the end of this Tribunal to expect us to accept his blanket denials over the accumulated evidence.

As I have said, the guidelines adopted by cabinet on March 2nd 1995 laid great stress on the need to avoid contact with the bidders. Not only was this not adhered to, there was in fact what the report calls a concerted campaign of “conspicuous” financial support of Fine Gael during the competition period and immediately afterwards. Paragraph 41.34 of the report points out that excluding the $50,000 Telenor cheque, a total of £22,140 was paid by Mr O’Brien or Esat companies to Fine Gael between January 1995 and June 1996. The evidence before the Tribunal was that Esat had relatively limited financial resources available to it during most of this time, yet chose to prioritise donations to Fine Gael.

The evidence before the Tribunal was also that not one person in Fine Gael raised a concern during that time. Not one! This is all the more striking given the fact that a substantial sum of these donations was made in a manner where they were known to senior members but designed to avoid public scrutiny.

The report contains a short but extraordinary letter written on Esat notepaper by Ms Sarah Carey to Deputy Phil Hogan two weeks before the licence was awarded. It states

Dear Phil,

Please find enclosed a draft for the Golf on 16th.
I understand Denis has requested that there are no references made to his contribution at the event.
Best of luck on the day!
I’ll give you a call soon.

Sarah Carey.

Enclosed was £4,000 sponsorship for the Fine Gael National Golf Classic. This donation was made by way of a bank draft by Esat at a time which in Justice Moriarty’s words “coincided with a critical point in the evaluation process” of the mobile phone licence.

Minister Hogan was at that time Chairman of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party, Director of Elections for by-elections and centrally involved in fundraising. Today he is a cabinet minister, trusted lieutenant to the Taoiseach, national director of elections for Fine Gael and centrally involved in the party’s fundraising.

While she is a minor figure in the whole affair, Ms Carey’s approach to the Tribunal has been illustrative of a much wider strategy followed by others. When caught out her approach has been to minimise the issue and look for distractions. Her lie to the Tribunal related to when she leaked material in a vain attempt to spread Fine Gael’s pain to others. The idea that a donation to an opposition party in the years after the competition should distract from what went on with Fine Gael at that time is remarkable.

As well as Esat conspicuously supporting Fine Gael fundraisers, Mr O’Brien and his companies engaged in what Justice Moriarty describes as a “concerted campaign” to raise its profile with Fine Gael with the assistance of Mr Dan Egan, a former Fine Gael advisor.

In 2003, at the Tribunal, Mr Egan confirmed that in this period he had arranged a meeting for Mr. O’Brien with then Minister for Tourism & Trade Deputy Enda Kenny. This meeting took place on 17th May 1995. I believe it appropriate for the Taoiseach to outline to the House his knowledge of the concerted campaign undertaken by Minister O’Brien in regard to Fine Gael Ministers.

The Taoiseach should also once and for all respond to the ongoing question surrounding the allegations contained in Magill in 2003 that he was a host of a fundraising dinner only two days before the second mobile phone licence was awarded at which one of the major bidders for the licence was present. When asked about this by journalists the Taoiseach, by then already leader of Fine Gael, refused to comment – and there has been no comment in the eight years since then.

The Taoiseach was intimately involved in Fine Gael fundraising at the time and respected this work enough to appoint one of the party’s trustees to the board of Bord Fáilte on his final day as minister in 1997 – and we all know how seriously the Taoiseach takes ministers making appointments during their final day in office.

Given the clear guidelines to which he and all members of cabinet agreed on March 2nd 1995, the Taoiseach should tell us the names of the two witnesses who attended this meeting and supply us with the written record of the meeting. If there were no witnesses and there is no record he should explain why.

In regard to the now infamous Telenor cheque, the Moriarty Report has identified a number of troubling issues that require answers from Fine Gael Ministers including the Taoiseach.

First of all, people should be in no doubt about why there was a major donation to Fine Gael by a company involved in a lucrative commercial licence awarded by the state. In the words of Denis O’Brien Senior in his evidence to the Tribunal, the donation was given to Fine Gael because “Fine Gael asked for the donation”. It was routed as it was, he said, to “ensure confidentiality.”

The proposal for a fundraising dinner was outlined initially in a letter dated 4th July 1995 to Michael Lowry. That letter identified that “those attending the dinner should include the Taoiseach and Ministers Lowry, Barrett, Yates and Kenny”. The very specific purpose of the dinner was not disinterested support of Fine Gael, but to be sold as something more. The letter stated that it was to be targeted at those who wished to “make a definite contact and to avail of the opportunity to discuss their future within Ireland under a Fine Gael government.”

Earlier today the Taoiseach clarified for the first time that he was not at that dinner. Can he now bring the same clarity to the question of which of his ministers did attend?

The Moriarty Tribunal refers critically to $50,000 cheque as a “covert routing of funds from Esat/Telenor to Fine Gael.” This payment was made in a clandestine manner to an off-shore account to ensure it remained hidden from public view. In stark terms, in paragraph 3.61, the report says the payment was “made in a manner which, having regard to its false and misleading documentation, the initial payment to an offshore Jersey account, and the eventual delays and misrepresented form of transmission to Fine Gael, was secretive, utterly lacking in transparency and designed to conceal the fact of such payment.”

In regard to the Telenor cheque, Fine Gael should explain why there was such a delay in returning the donation. According to the report, on 2nd March 1998 Fine Gael decided that it would return the donation to Telenor. However, as the Report records at paragraph 6.36 the donation was not returned until 7th March 2001. Why did this take over three years?

Since the publication of this report, the Taoiseach has sought to make a virtue of the fact that his party returned the covert $50,000 donation and waived legal privilege. But the facts are that this only ultimately happened when the donation was publicly exposed and it was clear that the Moriarty Tribunal would be investigating it. Prior to this Fine Gael had attempted to hide this donation from the Moriarty Tribunal by getting a Senior Counsel to advise on whether or not it was reportable.

If you read the evidence of the former Fine Gael General Secretary Jim Miley to the Tribunal you find that the idea that the cheque fell outside the terms of the Tribunal was first suggested to Fine Gael by Esat’s public relations representative.

As Judge Moriarty has reported, the clandestine circumstances of this donation would have remained hidden from public knowledge had it not been for media disclosures in 2001.

The Taoiseach would be well advised to talk to his own party’s current General Secretary on this matter. In 2001, Tom Curran said that the party had decided to not to report the donation to the Moriarty Tribunal because it would have been “politically disastrous”. He said that he had feared if the donation was revealed a connection might be made between Fine Gael and the granting of a mobile telephone licence to Esat Digifone.

Justice Moriarty draws a damning conclusion on Fine Gael’s concealment of the Telenor cheque. Paragraph 3.63 reads:

No person or entity connected with the payment saw fit to notify the Tribunal Office, notwithstanding a substantial degree of knowledge of its clandestine circumstances and proffered return, and it is likely that, without the media disclosures that occurred in 2001, the matter would have remained hidden from public knowledge. The entitlement of such persons to seek and act on legal advice is not in question, but it is nonetheless viewed by the Tribunal as regrettable that no such disclosure whatsoever to a public Tribunal of Inquiry transpired. Whilst allowance is made for the factors mentioned at 3.31, this observation nonetheless is seen as applying to Fine Gael.

For the Taoiseach to claim, as he did in this House last Wednesday, that Fine Gael has been “commended” by the Tribunal is deliberate misrepresentation of the report and a refusal to acknowledge a clear and serious finding of evasion against Fine Gael.

On RTE’s Prime Time, on the day the Moriarty Report was published, Minister Rabbitte claimed the report “expressly exonerated” the other members of the Rainbow Government. This was repeated by the Taoiseach in this House. The report does nothing of the sort.

Beyond the spin, it is very clear from the report that a responsibility rests upon all of those Ministers who were members of the Cabinet in 1995 for how they allowed the process they agreed in March of that year to be subverted.

The Tribunal Report states at paragraph 60.19 that then Minister Lowry “proceeded to bypass consideration by his cabinet colleagues, and thereby not only influenced, but delivered the result” in favour of Esat Digifone. It seems some Ministers are seeking a pardon for themselves on the basis of this statement.

But the question that has to be asked is how ministers allowed themselves to be bypassed? Given the “conspicuous” nature of Esat’s lobbying and Minister Lowry’s advocacy of their case, why did they sit back and say nothing?
It is documented in paragraph 48.31, that the meeting at which Michael Lowry obtained political clearance to announce the winning consortium of the GSM licence – prior to it receiving full cabinet approval – was actually a meeting of the Aviation Committee. It was not even a properly convened Cabinet Committee and the issue of the mobile phone licence had no business being discussed at it.

The Moriarty Tribunal reports in detail how the decision of the Fine Gael and Labour government to award the licence was made on 25 October 1995. Judge Moriarty reports at paragraph 48.55 a private conversation between former Taoiseach, John Bruton, and Minister Michael Lowry they then met with Dick Spring, Proinsias DeRossa and Ruairi Quinn. At that meeting, Michael Lowry said that Esat Digifione had won the competition. Michael Lowry also recommended that he should proceed to announce the result forthwith, rather than postpone the announcement until after the result had been considered by Cabinet at a meeting scheduled for the following day. This was approved. Judge Moriarty is highly critical in his report of the informality by which this crucial government decision was taken. He states at paragraph 48.66:

“In securing what was de facto government approval, otherwise than through the route of bringing a recommendation to Cabinet on foot of an aide memoire, or a memorandum for government, or even by deferring the matter to the scheduled Cabinet meeting the following day, all of the procedures which had so carefully been put in place by Mr. Bruton and his colleagues, when the rainbow coalition entered government, were rendered of no application to the GSM decision. …… in consequence of the approach taken by Mr. Lowry, the opportunity for scrutiny or consideration by his Cabinet colleagues, or their advisors, was significantly curtailed.”

In effect, what occurred was that the party leaders of Fine Gael, Labour and Democratic Left together with Minister Ruairi Quinn acquiesced to Michael Lowry’s fast-track proposal that the result be announced immediately rather than being considered by the full Cabinet. A number of questions arise from the rushed and ill-informed decision of the Cabinet Committee and the failure of the full Cabinet to consider the decision:

- This was a widely publicised announcement. It was the largest commercial announcement ever made by an Irish government. Why did the members of that government not ask why the decision did not come for discussion at Cabinet before it was announced? The Taoiseach as well as ministers Ruairi Quinn, Brendan Howlin, Richard Bruton, Michael Noonan and Pat Rabbitte, were members of that Cabinet. Why did none of these ministers insist in accordance with procedure that this decision should come before Cabinet for discussion, particularly given the knowledge that some of them had that the spirit and content of the March guidelines had been broken?

- Did the failure of this matter to come before Cabinet for discussion not raise a question in ministers’ minds as to the orthodoxy of this decision? As Ministers who were aware that this decision had been made but who were also aware that it had not been discussed by cabinet, do these ministers now accept that they failed in their duty to scrutinise the contest in any way?

We know that the scheduled Cabinet meeting on the next day, 26th October 1995, simply noted the decision that had already been made. The Report states at paragraph 49.01:

The decision was duly noted by Cabinet, which procedure was, in the circumstances, no more than a formality to ensure substantial compliance with the conditions of the government decision of 2nd March 1995 which had authorised the process at the outset.

Did no-one at that Cabinet ask why this decision was not being discussed at Cabinet? Did no-one enquire as to whether they could have a Report from Minister Lowry on the competition and how it progressed?

The report also raises critical issues about the evidence given to the Tribunal by Minister Phil Hogan. The position on this matter which is unequivocally set out in the report is as follows.

- Mark Fitzgerald, Fine Gael Treasurer during the critical period, gave evidence to the Moriarty Tribunal that he was asked to attend a meeting with Denis O’Brien in Lloyds Brassiere on 17 October 1995. He said that when he arrived he was surprised to see that also present were Fine Gael Chairman Deputy Hogan and the late Deputy Jim Mitchell. He says that he was asked questions about the licence and whether he heard anything about it from Michael Lowry. It is his evidence that this discussion took place while Phil Hogan was present with them at the same table.

- Deputy Hogan gave evidence to the Tribunal two days later and stated that as far as he was concerned that meeting did not take place, or if it did take place, he had no recollection of it. However, his primary evidence was that it did not take place. In his evidence to the Tribunal, which is available on its website in the transcript for Day 237, the Minister said that he would have remembered such a meeting with Mr. O’Brien.
iii. That was a clear conflict of evidence that Judge Moriarty had to resolve and he resolved it in favour of Mark Fitzgerald. Consequently, in respect of the Minister for the Environment’s suggestion that the meeting never occurred, that sworn evidence has been rejected by the Tribunal.

There is nothing surprising in this, particularly given the unchallenged fact that Minister Hogan was personally involved in receiving for Fine Gael a large donation from Denis O’Brien and Esat at a time when he was aware that Esat was competing for an immensely valuable state licence. If you take the time to read the transcripts, you will see the futile effort undertaken by counsel for Denis O’Brien to undermine Mark Fitzgerald’s evidence

It is now incumbent upon the Taoiseach to give his views on the credibility of a Government Member whose evidence has not been accepted by a Tribunal established by the Oireachtas.

The failure of the Taoiseach to do so has reinforced the impression of a Fine Gael party that believes that accountability is for other people – that standards are to be demanded of others.

The Taoiseach talks a lot about change, but what change is he showing in his failure to talk about how he and others in Fine Gael ignored their own guidelines and engaged directly with bidders for this licence and both sought and received substantial donations. From the outside we see Minister Hogan still central to Fine Gael fundraising and as recently as last month refusing to answer questions about who they were targeting for funds. We see the person who was Michael Lowry’s closest advisor in 1995 installed as the Taoiseach’s closest advisor today. We see ministers leaving chairs vacant on important media programmes rather than run the risk of answering questions.

The Taoiseach and his ministers want to draw a line but admit no errors. They want to propose reform, all of which is ready to implement and agreed by all parties, but do not want to admit their part in practices which need to be reformed. They want to operate to a grossly hypocritical tactic of talking about accountability for the past of every party except those that make up the government.

In conclusion, Ceann Comhairle, I want to say that Deputy Lowry was fully entitled to be heard by the Tribunal and to expect the Dáil to acknowledge this fully. This was done for 14 years. The publication of this report fundamentally changes the position. The request that we wait to hear all the evidence no longer holds. He has indicated that he will do nothing other than launch more attacks on Justice Moriarty and the entire judiciary. For our part, we believe the key findings of the report.

We therefore believe that Deputy Lowry should consider his position and resign from Dáil Éireann. If he chooses not to do so we will propose a motion expressing the will of the Dáil on this matter. This was done before in the case of the late Liam Lawlor and while the all-party motion did not cause his resignation, it did mark an important public statement of standards by this House.

I have instructed the Fianna Fáil Whip to make contact with his counterparts with a view to bringing forward an agreed motion in government time which calls on Deputy Lowry to voluntarily resign his membership of Dáil Eireann. I would expect and urge the co-operation of every member of this House in the speedy resolution of this motion.

We will also continue to seek a forum where real questions can be asked of the ministers who allowed the awarding of the largest state licence in our history to be completed in direct contravention of the guidelines they themselves agreed.

The Moriarty Report is lengthy, detailed and subject to unprecedented attempts to misrepresent its contents. It falls to us all as members of Dáil Éireann to stand against this campaign and show that we are capable of acknowledging and addressing serious failings when they arise. Only then will our collective and individual promises of change be realised.