Miriam Lord: Hero Michael Lowry evades the Dáil

A Moriartyesque state of affairs as the Independent TD stays away from questions

Independent TD Michael Lowry from Tipperary has been fined €15,000 and his refrigeration company Garuda has been fined €10,000 after being found guilty of a tax offence and failing to keep proper books of account. Video: Colm Keena


What a time to be alive.

The sun shining. The birds singing. Everybody smiling.

Leinster House was en fete. And in the mind’s eye, that steel scaffolding around the old mansion was lace bunting and the drab halls inside were festooned with Summer garlands.

Because that is how people felt on Wednesday.

The day after Michael Lowry’s Long Walk to Freedom.

But a dark cloud hung over the Dáil. There was no sign of our hero. Each time the double doors opened, we hoped it might be him.

It was not to be.

Perhaps Lowry was too exhausted in the wake of his self-proclaimed “fantastic result” on Tuesday when he left court, exhilarated, as a “a free man” with nothing but four convictions for tax offences against himself and his refrigeration company along with an overall €25,000 fine and a trifling three year disqualification from acting as a company director.

He also exited with unanswered questions about the Finnish money at the centre of the case which didn’t make it into his books at the first attempt because it initially detoured to the Isle of Man. Curiously, this money, a cool quarter of a million pounds sterling 16 years ago - never made its presence known to the investigators in the Moriarty Tribunal, who would have been extremely interested to find out more about it.

But never mind that. By not being convicted on bigger tax charges, Lowry believes he is now vindicated after “22 years of absolute turmoil”.

The Long Walk to Freedom.

“No one understands unless you’re in the position if you’ve been harassed, chased and hounded by various institutions of the state,” he quivered outside the court. This, in particular, must have been a reference to his leading roles in the McCracken and Moriarty Tribunals. The former concluded a supermarket tycoon paid for a lavish extension to his house and the latter issued a damning verdict on then government minister Lowry’s “insidious and pervasive influence” on the decision to award Ireland’s second mobile phone licence to Denis O’Brien’s Esat Digifone.

Nobody understands.

But now this “fantastic result” is there to clear the air, the words of the judge wafting away all the bad stuff with his declaration that the Tipperary TD was a “conscientious tax payer” who previously “put his hand in his pocket” to settle a €1.4 million tax bill dating back to 1997.

Sure you have to be delighted for Lowry. It was just unfortunate the main man wasn’t there to accept the plaudits from his peers.

People were a bit disappointed, really.

Some of us had been up all night knitting a red carpet.

The Fianna Fáil leader couldn’t let the occasion pass without making some mention of him, although he didn’t mention the court case even though it is finished so he wouldn’t be prejudicing anything.

He returned to his favourite topic: whether the government has a sneaky little voting deal with independents such as Lowry. This is something Micheál Martin has long suspected and nothing Leo Varadkar says will convince him otherwise.

There may not be anything down on paper, but he knows the Taoiseach “continues to hide information” on the little local sweeteners he promises to the likes of Lowry and Sean Canney. He pointed out that Lowry has never voted against the government, which seems just a tad suspicious. Will Leo publish their agreement?

“There is nothing to publish and nothing to hide” he replied, insisting there is no formal agreement with any of the independent deputies. There are “several” however who “generally support the government” and because of that they are allowed raise local or policy issues with ministers.

“And if we can work on them, we do and where we can’t, we can’t.”

“That’s a deal! That’s a deal!” chorused Micheál and his colleagues.

Danny Healy-Rae wondered why they were getting so annoyed, as they have a confidence and supply agreement. “Sure you’ve a deal as well.”

“Well, we’ve drawn the short straw” huffed Timmy Dooley.

Unfortunately, after his 22 years facing difficult questions, Lowry wasn’t there to provide clarification on whether there exists a deal or a paper trail. A Moriartyesque state of affairs.

He has always claimed he has “an understanding” with the current administration. Something the government denies.

The Taoiseach then pointed out that no-deal Lowry doesn’t always vote with the government. Over the past two years, he has voted against on 10 occasions out of 170 (he wasn’t there for 89 of them).

Those dissenting votes were harmless.

Finally, Socialist Ruth Coppinger mentioned the court convictions which crowned Lowry’s “fantastic” day. Strangely, nobody else wanted to touch them.

She highlighted his tax offences for which he got “a chicken feed fine in the context of his wealth and a pat on the back from the judge rather than a rap on the knuckles, saying he was a great TD.”

And as the leas Ceann Comhairle looking increasingly scandalised, she declared that workers all over the country will look at the case and conclude that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor.

Would the Taoiseach now “oblige judges not to give their own personal opinions about one of their own, but to actually prosecute serial tax offenders for tax evasion?”

Pat the Cope Gallagher found his voice. “You can’t be referring to court judgments” he spluttered, “and making references such as that!”

Leo answered briefly.

There had been a court case, deputy Lowry got a fair trial, a conviction followed, he was fined and barred from holding directorships, he said.

It is the job of the courts to hear cases. Politicians do not overrule judges. “We’re not Soviet Russia.”

And that’s all he was going to say about Michael Lowry.

Except that “tax offences and tax crimes are serious crimes in my view and the view of the government. When somebody commits a tax offence they’re not just taking money from one person they’re taking money from all society.”

Surely Leo wasn’t referring to no-deal Micheál with his fantastic convictions? Celebrating his 22 Year Walk to Freedom in the face of outrageous allegations and hounding by State institutions?

Because they have an understanding.

Nothing on paper, mind.

A politician might be misunderstood.

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