O'Brien should not get forum invite, says Creighton

 

MINISTER OF State Lucinda Creighton has said the Government should avoid inviting businessman Denis O’Brien to another economic forum in Dublin due to the findings of the Moriarty tribunal.

Ms Creighton said she was uncomfortable with Mr O’Brien’s attendance at the Global Irish Economic Forum last October and would feel the same if he was invited to the forum again.

She made her remarks after saying Mr O’Brien’s work with former US president Bill Clinton to promote investment in Ireland was appreciated and that it was important not to undermine it.

Disquiet over the Mahon tribunal report has stirred renewed controversy over the Moriarty report, which found one year ago that the then minister Michael Lowry “secured the winning” of the 1995 mobile phone licence competition for Mr O’Brien’s company Esat Digifone.

The Moriarty inquiry also found Mr O’Brien made two payments to Mr Lowry in 1996 and 1999 totalling some £500,000 and backed a loan of stg£420,000 to Mr Lowry in 1999. The businessman rejected the report and insisted he had not given “one red cent” to Mr Lowry.

Mr O’Brien ranked among a number of Irish business figures with Enda Kenny last week when he opened the New York Stock Exchange to mark St Patrick’s Day, leading to criticism of the Taoiseach.

Mr Kenny said he had no say in the line-up for the event and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said there was no comparison to be drawn between the Mahon findings and the stock exchange gathering. Asked whether it was sustainable for the Coalition to dismiss criticism of the event as an irrelevance, Ms Creighton said: “I think the Moriarty findings are extremely serious and I don’t think that anybody in Government can afford to brush them aside.”

Mr O’Brien’s attendance at the Government-sponsored investment forum in Dublin seven months after the Moriarty report led his former Esat colleague, businessman Barry Maloney, to boycott the event on the basis that it would damage investment.

Asked if Mr O’Brien will be invited again to such an event, Ms Creighton said: “I would certainly hope not.” She would not say whether she would be relaying this stance to the Government directly. “I’m not going to discuss with you what I’m going to discuss with my Government colleagues but that’s my view.”

She noted, however, that Mr O’Brien’s work with Mr Clinton included a successful New York investor event last month, which Mr Kenny attended. “I certainly don’t in any sense diminish the findings of the Moriarty tribunal,” Ms Creighton said. “I think they are extremely serious. But Denis O’Brien’s role in his engagement with Bill Clinton in particular and with the Irish diaspora and potential investors is an important one, and I don’t know that at a time like this that we afford to turn our back on it.”

Ms Creighton was then asked whether it was at odds with the Government’s investment drive that the winner of the phone licence in the circumstances criticised by Moriarty was going around as one of Ireland’s chief promoters. “That’s a fair point,” she responded.

A Government spokeswoman said Ms Creighton was expressing her personal view. “The issue of any future invitation list does not arise as the timing for a future forum has not been decided upon by the Government,” she said.

The spokeswoman also said the Government had viewed the findings of the Moriarty tribunal extremely seriously. “It has already responded to its key finding on breaking the link between political funding and business through the Electoral Political Funding Bill – which will ban all corporate donations over €200 to political parties unless the donors first register with the Standards in Public Office Commission. “In further implementing its recommendations, the independence of the Revenue Commissioners has been placed on a statutory basis and the Central Bank’s regulatory powers have been enhanced,” she added.