Last hurrah by Lowry and O’Brien

EVIDENCE from Tipperary North TD Michael Lowry and businessman Denis O’Brien will bring the curtain down on the Moriarty Tribunal’s extensive probe into the awarding of the country’s second mobile phone licence.

Both key figures will be called to testify when the tribunal resumes after its Easter break. Before adjourning yesterday, Mr Justice Michael Moriarty indicated the present phase of the inquiry was nearing its conclusion.

Since December 2002, the inquiry has concentrated exclusively on the background to the selection of Mr O’Brien’s Esat Digifone consortium when Mr Lowry was minister for communications in the Rainbow Coalition.

The tribunal has sat for 286 days, of which 123 days have been taken up with the mobile phone issue. Since its establishment in September 1997, it has inquired into payments made to Mr Lowry and former Taoiseach Charles J Haughey.

In October 1995, a team of civil servants drawn mainly from Mr Lowry’s department, assisted by international consultants, recommended Mr O’Brien’s consortium from six applicants for the licence. After protracted negotiations, Digifone was given the licence on May 16, 1996.

Yesterday, former Tánaiste Dick Spring’s senior adviser Greg Sparks said he expressed surprise when Mr Spring told him of the Government’s GSM2 decision on October 25, 1995, as he heard rumours Mr O’Brien’s side of the consortium was not financially strong.

He explained to the Tánaiste the licence would, in his opinion, allow the recipient access to “super profits.”

He understood that at that time, Esat Digifone was not financially strong, but acknowledged with the licence it would have no problem raising the necessary capital.

Mr Sparks said he had heard rumours that financier Dermot Desmond might be a Digifone shareholder and queried if his involvement had been considered in the light of the Johnston Mooney & O’Brien report, issued earlier by Enterprise and Employment Minister Ruairí Quinn.

He said Mr Spring was not aware of these points. However, the GSM2 report had given a clear recommendation that had been accepted by the Government.

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