The National Union of Journalists have written to the Committee on Communications, Climate Change and Environment asking that Mr Lowry “recuse himself” from all discussions around the acquisition of the Celtic Media Group of local newspapers by Independent News and Media.
The committee met in private yesterday to discuss this letter, but they were told that they do not have the power to ask him to step aside.
Calling for action, NUJ secretary Séamus Dooley wrote: “I respectfully suggest that you invite Deputy Michael Lowry to recuse himself from any discussions on the proposed acquisition by Independent News and Media Holdings Limited of CMNL Limited.
“Mr Lowry’s relationship with Mr O’Brien is a matter of public record and was the subject of adverse findings by the Moriarty Tribunal.”
The tribunal’s final report found Tipperary TD Mr Lowry had assisted Mr O’Brien in his bid to secure a mobile phone contract for Esat Digifone.
Committee members received legal advice during the meeting and were told that Mr Lowry cannot be asked to excuse himself.
It is understood TDs and senators were told while Mr Lowry could recuse himself if he believed there was a conflict of interest, members do not have the power to demand or even ask he step aside during the hearings.
Committee member and AAA-PBP TD Bríd Smith was vocal on the issue at the private meeting and afterwards said: “I was opposed to it but the other members took the legal advice he can’t be told to leave.
“It was decided by the majority not to ask him or to tell him to absent himself from the committee,” she said.
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission approved the acquisition of the Celtic Media Group by INM last November. The proposed acquisition would see INM take over control of seven regional newspapers, including the Connaught Telegraph, Anglo-Celt and the Meath Chronicle.
But earlier this month Communications Minister Denis Naughten sought a full review to examine the implications of the proposed merger by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.
The communications committee is currently preparing a submission to the BAI and is seeking to hold hearings as part of that process.
The NUJ, who have asked Mr O’Brien appear before the committee, had argued Mr Lowry should not be present when witnesses were called in as part of these hearings.
Mr Lowry, who it is understood did not attend yesterday’s meeting of the communications committee, did not respond to calls from the Irish Examiner last night.