Michael Lowry denies note to Enda Kenny was sexist

TD described former PR adviser as ‘bright, intelligent and not bad looking’

Independent TD Michael Lowry has denied that a note he sent to Taoiseach Enda Kenny about reappointing his former PR adviser to the National Transport Authority was sexist and reflected cronyism. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Independent TD Michael Lowry has denied that a note he sent to Taoiseach Enda Kenny about reappointing his former PR adviser to the National Transport Authority was sexist and reflected cronyism. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

The Independent TD for Tipperary Michael Lowry has denied a handwritten note he sent to Taoiseach Enda Kenny in the Dáil last week reflected cronyism or sexism.

The note to Mr Kenny asked the Taoiseach to consider reappointing a former PR adviser to Mr Lowry, Ms Valerie O’Reilly, to the board of the National Transport Authority.

It described Ms O’Reilly as “a woman, bright, intelligent and not bad looking either.”

In a series of media responses, Mr Lowry, a former Fine Gael minister for communications, defended the note and contended that it had been leaked by a Labour party member to The Sunday Independent for politically motivated purposes.

‘Unnecessary and light-hearted’

In a statement he described his comment about Ms O’Reilly’s appearance as “unnecessary and light-hearted” and also said: “I reject any accusation of cronyism.”

When it was put to him on RTÉ Radio that the comment was sexist and very “Father Ted”, Mr Lowry replied: “That was a light-hearted, unnecessary comment that I made. I have to say to you people in the media who are politically correct, I have never had a situation where a woman took exception to a compliment on her appearance or a nice dress or a nice pair of shoes or a hair style.

“Are you telling me that a politician is not allowed to make a compliment?”

Asked was there not a big difference between a private compliment and a sexist comment, he replied: “It was not meant to be a sexist comment. If you want to take on your fellow journalists, I read last week three pages of articles in relation to media commenting how elegant and striking Christine LaGarde was. I read three pages of comments on how good looking and glamorous the Italian Euro commissioner was.”

Mr Lowry said, when asked, that he had no regrets.

Defending himself against accusations of cronyism, Mr Lowry said that Ms O’Reilly’s company Unicorn PR had never worked for him on a voluntary basis and all its work for him had been done on a professional and commercial basis.

Mr Lowry said she had indicated to him she wished to be reappointed to the board of the authority and he said he had conducted his own checks on her tenure there and got feedback that she had been excellent. It was on that basis that he had written the note to the Taoiseach asking him to consider her reappointment.

Mr Lowry denied the note was bypassing the public appointments system. He also denied that he had lobbied then taoiseach Brian Cowen in relation to Ms O’Reilly’s original appointment to the board five years ago.

Notes are ‘customary’

Asked about the note, he told RTÉ: “On Wednesday evening I was in the Dáil chamber and wrote a note to the Taoiseach. That’s not unusual. It’s customary for TDs to send notes to fellow members or to Ministers of the day about a particular issue.”

He said the Taoiseach had placed the note in a file and he was not sure if he had read it or not.

In a statement, Ms O’Reilly said the ratio of women involved in public institutions was a issue. She said she had been a diligent member of the National Transport Authority board and was willing to serve again. She said she had made her local TD, Mr Lowry, aware of this. She made no comment on his reference to her appearance.

Information released under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act showed that the annual board fee for members of the National Transport Authority is almost €12,000 per annum. In 2011, Ms O’Reilly also claimed a total of €2,842 in mileage and €18 in further expenses, bringing her total payments from the authority for that year to €14,830.