Dispute between Lowry and accountant an intriguing coda to Moriarty Tribunal
Independent TD Lowry believes payment of accountants must await judicial review of decision on Moriarty Tribunal fees
Michael Lowry: has said he had an understanding with Denis O’Connor that the fees for the tribunal work would be paid “through the rubric of me being paid my costs for appearing before the [Moriarty] tribunal”. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
The idea of a fall-out over money between Independent TD for Tipperary Michael Lowry and Denis O’Connor of BBT Accountants is intriguing news for those who followed the Moriarty Tribunal’s inquiry into the 1995 mobile phone licence competition won by Denis O’Brien’s Esat Digifone.
Mr Lowry and Mr O’Connor were criticised heavily in the tribunal’s final report. Mr O’Connor had helped Mr Lowry in his dealings with the earlier McCracken (Dunnes Payments) Tribunal and with the subsequent Moriarty (Payments to Politicians) Tribunal.
However during the money trail part of the licence inquiry, it emerged that Mr O’Connor had, unknown to the tribunal, been involved in contacts with Northern Ireland businessman Kevin Phelan, who was not cooperating with the tribunal but had been involved in some of the land deals it was investigating.
The tribunal ended up investigating who Mr O’Connor was working for when engaged in these contacts. It was told he was helping to sort out a dispute over fees being claimed by Mr Phelan in relation to a property deal in Doncaster. The Doncaster deal was financed by Mr O’Brien and the tribunal was told it was entirely his and did not in any way involve Mr Lowry.
In his final report Mr Justice Michael Moriarty decided that Mr Lowry was involved in some way, at the early stages of the deal, but did not speculate as to what that involvement might have been. He said he was satisfied that Mr O’Connor knew of the existence of documents that appeared to link Mr Lowry with the Doncaster deal. Mr O’Brien has at all times insisted the deal was entirely his.
Mr O’Connor, the judge said, was involved in an exercise aimed at preventing information coming to the attention of the tribunal, including negotiating payments in 2002 to Omagh-based Phelan, who had copies of the documents.
He said the accountant had “abused” the professional relationship he developed with the tribunal and “deliberately provided false responses and statements” to it in the belief he would not be found out.
His refusal to later acknowledge what he had done was “regrettable and reprehensible”, the judge said.
The negotiations between Mr O’Connor and Mr Phelan concerned demands Mr Phelan was making for fees he said he was owed from the Doncaster deal and other English deals the tribunal had been told involved Mr Lowry but not Mr O’Brien. Mr O’Connor apparently negotiated with Mr Phelan for both Mr O’Brien and Mr Lowry. The tribunal, in its final report, said that the 2002 payments made as a result of these negotiations – £65,000 by Mr Lowry and £150,000 by Mr O’Brien – led to Phelan becoming involved in the presentation of false evidence to the tribunal.
In his 2013 claim to the High Court, Mr O’Connor, on behalf of BBT Accountants, said his work on Mr Lowry’s behalf with the Moriarty Tribunal had a value of €1.62 million.
Consultancy work for Mr Lowry, commissioned in or around April 2001 – just a month after the tribunal began its inquiries into possible links between Mr Lowry and Mr O’Brien – had a value of €397,756. Mr Lowry, he said, had paid €58,357 of this in May 2001, of which some was on account.
In December 2010 Mr O’Connor sought money owed from the consultancy work and the tribunal work. Mr Lowry paid €156,314 in three stages between December 2010 and April 2013, and in June 2013 BBT served a summons seeking €1.74 million.
However, in affidavits Mr Lowry has said he had an understanding with Mr O’Connor that the fees for the tribunal work would be paid “through the rubric of me being paid my costs for appearing before the tribunal”. The arrangement did not include Mr Lowry being responsible for any costs additional to those recovered from the tribunal.
“Denis O’Connor has spoken to me several times about his belief that the rates for accountants appearing before tribunals were generous,” Mr Lowry said.
Mr Lowry said that €244,671 he has paid to Mr O’Connor to date is for the consultancy job agreed in April 2001, and that it does not include payment for tribunal work, as has been claimed by the accountant.
He said a balance of €153,085 arising from the consultancy work is being sought but is not yet agreed. In his affidavits to the courts, Mr O’Connor does not disclose a detailed breakdown of the work he did on the tribunal or as part of consultancy work commissioned in April 2001, for “confidentiality reasons”.
He disputes Mr Lowry’s contention that payments already made by Mr Lowry to Mr O’Connor, were for the consultancy work and not the tribunal work. “This is the first time Mr Lowry has ever made this contention and is wholly at odds with his stated position regarding the fees owed to [BBT]in respect of this consultancy work. Mr Lowry’s position was, up to the swearing by him of his affidavit, that he owed these fees but the payment thereof and the responsibility to discharge them fell to other parties.”
After the Master of the High Court, Edmund Holohan, granted a judgment against Mr Lowry for part of the fees late last year, Mr Lowry appealed, and the judgment was cancelled last week, on consent, with the whole issue now expected to be tried next year.
The affidavits produced by Mr O’Connor and for Mr Lowry were for the purposes of the appeal against the master’s judgment.
Mr of this case.
The Tipperary TD runs a refrigeration business, Garuda Ltd, and has used BBT for accounting and auditing services for that company and other business dealings over the years.