McDowell’s appointment to tribunal faces test

THE surprise appointment of Michael McDowell to represent the Moriarty Tribunal at its public hearings is due to be challenged at the High Court later today.

Lawyers for businessmen Dermot Desmond and Denis O’Brien told the inquiry yesterday that they would seek a judicial review of Mr McDowell’s appointment due to his former role as a minister for justice and attorney general.

The former Progressive Democrats leader and tánaiste is appearing for the Tribunal as a replacement for long-serving tribunal barrister, John Coughlan, who had to stand down due to ill health.

However, Bill Shipsey SC for Mr Desmond, said it was “wholly unsatisfactory” that the tribunal had taken on Mr McDowell without notifying any of the affected parties.

Jim O’Callaghan, SC for Mr O’Brien, described the appointment as “alarming and ill-advised”. He also cited 10 areas of potential bias and conflict of interest on Mr McDowell’s part because of his past involvement as a member of Government in matters being investigated by the tribunal as well as acting in related court cases.

The inquiry is examining the awarding of the state’s second mobile phone licence in 1995 to a consortium owned by Mr O’Brien in which Mr Desmond was also involved. It is also investigating whether there were any business links between Mr O’Brien and the then Minister for Communications, Michael Lowry, who would have conferred financial benefit on the Tipperary TD.

Yesterday, lawyers for the two businessmen as well as the Department of Communications also criticised the decision to only partially release a statement by Danish telecommunications expert, Michael Andersen, who was centrally involved in assessing the various bids for the phone licence.

They claimed the tribunal had deliberately omitted parts of Mr Andersen’s statement which was critical of the inquiry.

Mr Justice Michael Moriarty said the decision to appoint Mr McDowell was taken because of “unwarranted and slurs and imputations” against the tribunal’s legal team.

Tribunal barrister Jacqueline O’Brien SC said only parts of Mr Andersen’s statements which related to the Tribunal’s provisional findings were omitted because they were not finalised and could cause serious damage to people’s reputations.

She explained that Mr McDowell was not a member of the tribunal and he had “a very limited role”.

Mr Justice Moriarty also criticised Mr O’Brien for writing a four-page letter to him directly last week which he claimed was largely confined to “abuse, accusations of bias and peremptory demands”.

At the outset of yesterday’s hearing, Mr Lowry called on the tribunal to award him interim legal costs as he could no longer afford to be legally represented.

“It is unreasonable, unfair and unjust to expect me or any citizen to personally bankroll a quasi-judicial, legal monster for 17 years,” said Mr Lowry.

Tribunal lawyers said that under legislation the chairman could only award legal costs at the conclusion of the inquiry.


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