The Moriarty Tribunal has issued a report concerning the awarding of the most valuable commercial licence ever awarded by an Irish government. It is not about any small issue. It has enormous implications for the state, both financial and political. There has already been an attempt by briefers to suggest that this is a report which is about one deputy and events which have little contemporary relevance. Six members of the current government sat around the cabinet table during all parts of the process to award the license and were present when its award was rushed through government.
It is a very detailed and complex report but there are two core points to what it addresses – what happened before the license was awarded in order to promote the interests of one bidder and what happened after the license was awarded. The second part is something which has serious personal implications for Deputy Lowry – however the first part has more significance and wider implications.
It is very clear that the Report should immediately be sent to the DPP for his consideration.
THE $50,000 DONATION TO FINE GAEL
A central and important part of the Moriarty Report published today relates to the receipt by Fine Gael of a donation of $50,000. This donation and the clandestine nature of it is reported upon in great detail by the Judge at Chapter 3 of Part 1 of today’s report. In his conclusion the Judge notes that “what was in essence a political donation to Fine Gael was made in a manner which, having regard to its false and misleading documentation… 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 by or on behalf of the donors.”
The Judge also records in relation to how Fine Gael handled this matter after the Tribunal was established that:
“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”.
This is by far the most serious criticism of the direct actions of a political party made in any report of a Tribunal of Inquiry established by this House.
The Judge also found that once the donation of $50,000 from Esat Digifone to Fine Gael was lodged into an off-shore bank account in Jersey that that bank account became impressed with a trust in favour of the trustees of Fine Gael.
The findings in relation to the actions of Fine Gael in trying to hide this $50,000 donation are extremely serious. At the time that this donation was made, the Taoiseach was not only a Fine Gael member of cabinet, he and others who are once again holding senior offices were involved in parts of the fundraising practices covered in the report. In fact, the $50,000 donation was sought in respect of a private fundraising dinner that took place in New York on 9 November 1995. The Judge notes in his report at para 3.03 that it was identified by those organising the dinner that the attendees should include the then Taoiseach John Bruton, and Ministers Lowry, Barrett, Yates and Kenny. The Oireachtas deserves a proper response from Fine Gael and from the Taoiseach to the very serious findings contained within Chapter 3 of the First Part of the Report published today.
THE PHIL HOGAN ISSUE
The Judge also reports in Chapter 41 on the meeting between the Minister for the Environment and Mark Fitzgerald concerning a Fine Gael Golf Classic held at the K Club on 16 October 1995. On the following day there was a meeting in Lloyd’s Brasserie between Mark Fitzgerald and Denis O’Brien at which Deputy Phil Hogan turned up. The report records at paragraph 41.07 that Mr. Fitzgerald assumed that the purpose of the meeting was likely to relate to a business deal that they had recently discussed and he was surprised on arrival at the venue to find Mr. O’Brien sitting with Deputy Jim Mitchell and Minister Phil Hogan. Mark Fitzgerald was asked whether he’d heard any news on the licence and Mr. Fitzgerald informed him that he’d bumped into Mr. Lowry at the K Club Golf Classic and that Mr. Lowry had then told him that Mr. O’Brien had made a good impression.
When Minister Hogan came to give evidence before the Tribunal, as the Judge notes at paragraph 41.10, he claimed that he had no memory of any meeting with Mr. Fitzgerald together with Mr. O’Brien and Deputy Mitchell in Lloyds Brasserie. The Tribunal then had to decide between whether it preferred the evidence of Mark Fitzgerald or Phil Hogan. It is clear that the evidence of the Minister for the Environment was not accepted by the Judge. At paragraph 41.56 the Judge reports in respect of this conflict of evidence:
“Whilst care is always required in assessing the demeanour of witnesses, the evidence of Mr. Fitzgerald in relation to the two meetings was on general appraisal composed, coherent, dispassionate and moderate, not least in the face of a robust cross-examination by Counsel for Mr. O’Brien.”
In light of that finding the question must be asked whether the Taoiseach has confidence in Minister Hogan given that the Judge in his report has accepted the evidence of Mark Fitzgerald over his Minister’s and given that the Minister involved is directly responsible for the Mahon Tribunal?
Fine Gael and Esat
Throughout the report the Judge refers to specific examples of how there was a pattern of Esat using what it refers to as significant and “conspicuous” financial support to Fine Gael to raise its profile and chances of success in the licence competition. The Judge also states that this was “not remotely matched” by what was done by other bidders.
The Taoiseach has significant personal knowledge of this because he was involved in participating in a number of the fundraising events so used by Esat. For example, two days before the license was awarded in October 1995 he participated with other Fine Gael members of Government in a fundraising dinner which included representatives of the bidders. When approached by media outlets to discuss this in 2003 he refused to answer questions.
The Taoiseach and Ministers Noonan, Howlin, Bruton, Quinn and Rabbitte were all part of the Cabinet which allowed the most valuable licence ever awarded by the state to be rushed through. They were part of the decision to conclude a process which involved what the judge has referred to as “conspicuous support” of Fine Gael as a core part of one bidder’s strategy.
It cannot be brushed aside as the fault of one man and attempts to do so go entirely against the solemn assurance we received from the Taoiseach about the open and transparent way in which these issues were to be dealt with.