In Tipperary a sense of honour and decency is cherished, but our response to the behaviour of Michael Lowry will denominate the future of this country – Name with Editor
Tipperary people often wonder what might have happened if David Molony had not quit politics unexpectedly following six years as a North Tipperary TD. In 1981, Molony was the preferred Fine Gael candidate of Garret FitzGerald in North Tipperary. Molony defeated Michael Lowry (201 votes to 89) for the Fine Gael nomination and was subsequently elected to Dáil Éireann. Six years later the idealistic solicitor walked away from politics and Mr Lowry took the seat. Had Molony continued, however, we might have been spared one distressing scandal after another.
During the past year we have learned of Michael Lowry’s complex relationship with the Register of Members’ Interests. This vortex is, however, small potatoes when compared to the fact that Mr Lowry has been the subject of state investigations since 1997.
People who live in large centres of population, and who do not enjoy direct access to their local TD, struggle to understand the impact the personal touch of a politician can have
The McCracken Tribunal, for instance, reported that Mr Lowry had interfered in a rent arbitration process to the benefit of Ben Dunne. In return Dunne contributed IR£395,000 towards renovation works at the Lowry family home, works that were initially carried out without planning permission. Mr Lowry is also a proven tax evader. Michael Lowry’s company Garuda Limited reached a settlement with the Revenue Commissioners to pay €1.26m while Michael Lowry made a personal payment of €192,000.
In March 2011 the Moriarty Tribunal concluded that the actions of Michael Lowry were “profoundly corrupt to a degree that was nothing short of breath-taking”. The Moriarty Tribunal considered that Michael Lowry had interfered with the 1995 mobile-phone licence competition to the benefit of Esat Digifone and that in return Lowry had received payments exceeding €1m from Denis O’Brien.
On February 24th of this year the Sunday Independent published the transcript of a conversation between Michael Lowry and Omagh-based property consultant Kevin Phelan which reinforced the findings of the tribunal. Central to the conversation is a payment of £248,624 which Lowry made to Kevin Phelan.
It is quite clear from the taped conversation that Michael Lowry is anxious to avoid any third party connecting him to Glebe Trust. After publication of the transcript, Michael Lowry released a statement which pointedly argued that he “never had any material or beneficial interest in Glebe Trust”. He’s also of course reserved his rights as to whether it’s him in the recording at all.
The (allegedly) recorded conversation took place on September 30th 2004. At the time the Moriarty Tribunal was investigating Michael Lowry’s relationship with Denis O’Brien and deliberating on whether it could legitimately probe issues with regard to the purchase of Doncaster Rovers Football Club Ltd (£4.3m) in August 1998.
This transaction was completed by Westferry Limited – Westferry was initially owned by Kevin Phelan’s Glebe Trust. However, by the time the deal was finalised Westferry was owned by an O’Brien trust.
The Moriarty Tribunal reported that it could only make limited findings in terms of establishing the link between Michael Lowry, Denis O’Brien and the sale of Doncaster Rovers because of the ‘suppression’ of evidence. Mr Phelan had declined an invitation to participate in the tribunal and could not be compelled to do so.
In May 2007 Michael Lowry instructed Kelly-Noone Solicitors to prepare a letter for the Moriarty Tribunal which detailed a payment of £65,000 to Kevin Phelan in April 2002. Lowry indicated that this was the only payment made to Kevin Phelan. The existence of a ‘new’ payment to Phelan, later confirmed as £248,624 and declared as tax compliant by Lowry, directly contradicts evidence submitted to the Moriarty Tribunal.
Under the Tribunals of Inquiry Act it is an offence to knowingly present false or misleading evidence to a tribunal – a person found to have given false evidence to a tribunal can be jailed for two years or fined up to €12,700. However, Lowry has not been interviewed under caution by the Gardaí despite calls from Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty for action to be taken. Is there a lack of political will on the part of Fine Gael to tackle the issue?
Six current cabinet members worked alongside Lowry in the 1995 ‘Rainbow Coalition’ when the then Minister awarded the controversial licence to Denis O’Brien.
In an Irish Independent report on April 6th 2012, Fionnan Sheahan revealed that Michael Lowry was an honoured guest at Phil Hogan’s 50th birthday party in July 2010.
That party was attended by Enda Kenny. Fionnan Sheahan reported a quip made by Mr Kenny to Lowry: “is that an application form I see in your top pocket?”. What was not reported was that the Taoiseach spent much of the evening in warm and jocular conversation with his disgraced colleague.
The Moriarty Tribunal concluded that the actions of Michael Lowry were ‘profoundly corrupt to a degree that was nothing short of breath-taking’. The Tribunal considered that Michael Lowry had interfered with the 1995 mobile-phone licence competition to the benefit of Esat Digifone and that in return Mr Lowry had received payments exceeding Ä1m from Denis OíBrien
Subsequent to the publication of the Moriarty report Lowry was granted meetings with Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Minister for Health Dr James Reilly.
Perhaps it is such behaviour that forms the basis for Michael Lowry’s robust self-confidence.
Lowry responded to the details of the Moriarty Tribunal report with a swagger – he refused to accept the findings and labelled the report “a scandal of truly epic proportions”. Mr Lowry refused to resign from Dáil Éireann in 2011 even though his fellow TDs passed a motion requesting that he do so. Indeed, in July 2012 Michael Lowry welcomed the decision of the Supreme Court to allow the two unsuccessful bidders (Persona & the Cellstar consortium) to challenge the state’s 1995 decision to grant a mobile phone licence to Esat Digifone.
The pressing issue, however, is to ascertain why the people of North Tipperary continue to return this individual to Dáil Éireann – Mr Lowry has topped the constituency poll in 1997, 2002, 2007 and 2011.
Michael Lowry is popular because he is a political grafter, he involves himself in the community and works to further the interests of his constituents.
To regard the election of Michael Lowry to Dáil Éireann as a pathology associated with a bandit culture which may or may not exist in Tipperary is far too simplistic. People who live in large centres of population, and who do not enjoy direct access to their local TD, struggle to understand the impact the personal touch of a politician can have.
In Tipperary North Michael Lowry carefully plays the role of victim – he has long fostered an image of himself as persecuted by the ‘Dublin media’. Mr Lowry has persistently referred to an “organised, concerted and vicious media campaign” waged against him.
In 2012, for example, Minister for Public Transport Alan Kelly called on Deputy Lowry to give a full account of his version of events regarding the Kevin Phelan tapes since he felt the issue was effecting the reputation of Tipperary North. Instead of dealing with the substantive issue at hand the Lowry Team, Mr Lowry’s mini-party of local councillors, rounded on the Labour TD. During one notable exchange Michael O’Meara, Mayor of North Tipperary, explained that he expected such comments from the “Dublin media”.
The creation of such a siege complex is a deliberate ploy of the Lowry Team. Indeed, following the publication of the Moriarty Tribunal report the Tipperary North TD issued an invitation (by text) to his most loyal supporters to a private meeting (over 300 attended) at the Anner Hotel, Thurles on March 24th 2011 to “discuss the Moriarty report”. After director of elections Michael Collins introduced Michael Lowry to the crowd the Tipperary North TD excused himself to speak briefly to reporters who had “invited themselves” along. The attending members of the press were then asked to leave the meeting and as they did so some of Mr Lowry’s most loyal supporters led a chant of “out, out, out”.
In 1997 Mr Lowry had convened a similar meeting to generate support following the scandal associated with the McCracken Tribunal – Lowry was forced to step down from the cabinet table in November 1996 after it emerged Ben Dunne had financed an extension of Mr Lowry’s home in Holycross.
Tipperary people believe that a sense of honour should count for something; that they should stand by one of their own. But such a sense of honour does not represent a sufficient basis for constituents to disregard Mr Lowry’s behaviour. Michael Lowry is no hero. Persistent support for Mr Lowry does not represent a show of sympathy for someone in trouble. Instead, it is a show of support for an individual who has done wrong.
Following the 2011 General Election Michael Lowry rewarded 14,104 constituents who had afforded Lowry a first preference vote by spending the opening day of Dáil Éireann in the Canary Islands. Indeed, Lowry maintains one of the very worst voting records in the Dáil. Michael Lowry is not an honourable man and has used his role as a public servant to inappropriately advance his own personal interests.
Michael Lowry has been exposed as a blatant liar – during a prepared address to the Dáil in 1995 Mr Lowry declared that if he had money to hide he would have “put it in an offshore account”. That day Mr Lowry worked to create an impression that he had no such account. In fact, the Revenue Commissioners would later discover that he had at least four.
On that basis alone Lowry is patently unfit to sit in Dáil Éireann. We do not ask the people of North Tipperary to wade their way through the 2,348-page Moriarty Tribunal report, but what we do ask is that his constituents familiarise themselves with how the Holycross man behaves. It is up to Mr Lowry’s constituents to address the issue of his very presence in Dáil Éireann.
The Moriarty Tribunal report revealed that Michael Lowry personally pocketed £34,500 which Ben Dunne had earmarked as a Christmas bonus from Dunnes Stores for staff of Mr Lowry’s Thurles-based refrigeration company, Streamline. The chairman of the inquiry, Justice Michael Moriarty, described this as among the “most reprehensible” of actions carried out by the Tipperary North TD. Are these the actions of an honourable man?
How we deal with Michael Lowry raises questions of the very country in which we live. If we want to build a better future for this country Michael Lowry is not the type of individual that we can afford to indulge. We in Tipperary must ask ourselves what kind of politician we want to represent us.
This article was written by a member of the provincial press who wanted it said he was born, grew up, lives and works in North Tipperary.