Michael Lowry

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Michael Lowry
TD
Teachta Dála
Incumbent
Assumed office
February 1987
Constituency Tipperary North
Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications
In office
15 December 1994 – 30 November 1996
Preceded by Brian Cowen
Succeeded by John Bruton
Personal details
Born (1953-03-13) 13 March 1953 (age 61)
County Tipperary, Ireland
Nationality Irish
Political party Independent (since 1997)
Other political
affiliations
Fine Gael (1979–97)
Website www.michaellowry.ie

Michael Lowry (born 13 March 1953) is an Irish politician. He is a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Tipperary North constituency since 1987.[1]

Lowry is a former Chairman of the Fine Gael political party and was Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications between 1994 and 1996. He resigned his ministry in some controversy, and Fine Gael barred him from standing again. Thereafter, he ran as an independent candidate and has maintained his seat in the Dáil ever since. The Moriarty Tribunal concluded "beyond doubt" that Lowry was a tax evader and had assisted businessman Denis O'Brien's consortium Esat Digiphone in acquiring a lucrative mobile phone licence in the mid-1990s, during Lowry's time as Communications Minister. O'Brien went on to become one of the richest men in Ireland.[2]

Lowry has also launched a defamation lawsuit against Irish Independent journalist Sam Smyth, over an article Smyth had written regarding the Moriarty Tribunal as well as comments Smyth had made on a TV3 show. The defamation lawsuit was thrown out of several courts and Lowry was ordered to pay Smyth's legal costs. In more recent times his relationship with Kevin Phelan has come under scrutiny, with the emergence of a recorded conversation in which Lowry claims to have made an undeclared payment of €250,000.

Despite being the subject of a criminal investigation resulting from several scandals pursuing him from his time in office, he continues to be very popular in his constituency.[3]

Early life[edit]

Lowry was born in County Tipperary and educated at Thurles CBS. He was elected to Tipperary North Riding County Council in 1979. In the early 1980s, he was a GAA administrator, and was the youngest ever Chairman of the Tipperary County Committee.[4] He also runs a commercial refrigeration business, Streamline Enterprises, founded in 1988.[4][5] Later, as chairman of the Semple Stadium Development Committee, he was largely instrumental in raising the necessary funds for the refurbishment of the Stadium in preparation for the All-Ireland Centenary Hurling final in 1984.[4]

National politics[edit]

Lowry was first elected to Dáil Éireann as a Fine Gael TD for Tipperary North at the 1987 general election and in 1993 he became Chairman of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party.

In 1994, he was appointed Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications in the Rainbow Coalition government.

A succession of political scandals pursued Lowry throughout his time in office. These included allegations of irregularities relating to the granting of a mobile phone licence to Esat Telecom, which were later investigated by the Moriarty Tribunal, plans for the Dublin Light Rail System and the closure of rural post offices. The 1997 McCracken Tribunal revealed supermarket tycoon Ben Dunne had paid IR£395,000 for an extension to Lowry's home in Tipperary.[6] The Tribunal concluded that Lowry had evaded tax.

This allegation prompted Lowry's resignation from the Cabinet in November 1996. Taoiseach John Bruton announced that Lowry would not be allowed stand as a Fine Gael candidate at the next election and he resigned from the party.

Lowry announced that he would stand as an independent candidate in the 1997. He topped the poll in his constituency in that election and did so again in the 2002 and 2007 general elections.[7]

Lowry is backed by a strong local organisation in Tipperary known informally as "Team Lowry"[8] which consists of 4 County Councillors in North Tipperary, 2 Town Councillors in Thurles and 1 Town Councillor in Templemore.[9]

Lowry was re-elected to represent Tipperary North at the 2011 general election, heading the poll on the 1st count with 14,010 votes.[10] Along with Michael Healy-Rae and Noel Grealish, he is not a member of the Dáil Technical Group.

Business interests[edit]

Lowry has directorships listed with the Companies Registration Office. He has two roles with Garuda Ltd, a manufacturer of electric domestic appliances; Abbeygreen Consulting, which involves construction work and special trades; and Gdlc Business Consultants Ltd., a business and management consultancy registered in Dublin. He also has an unlimited company called Glebeland Farm, which manages his bloodstock and livestock interests.[11]

Lowry had some success with horse racing as a quarter partner in the MALM partnership, but has in recent times taken to flat-race breeding.[11]

Lowry owned a horse called "Wedding Morn", though the price he paid for the horse is not known. The horse was covered by Coolmore's Danehill Dancer, from the stable of John Magnier. He would have paid up to €75,000 to have the horse covered. Another horse, "Probably" was sold by Lowry, which was the progeny of Wedding Morn. Wedding Morn delivered three foals including Probably, the three sold for a total of €410,000 by Lowry between 2009 and 2011.[12] Lowry sold Wedding Morn in 2012 for €361,849.[13]

Moriarty Tribunal: investigation and results[edit]

One of the remits of the Moriarty Tribunal, which sat from 1997 to 2011, was the investigation of payments to Lowry. In early 2007, Lowry announced that he had made a full and final settlement of all outstanding payments with the Revenue Commissioners in response to the findings concerning his tax evasion. His company Garuda had to pay up €1.2 million after a Revenue audit. He also paid almost €200,000 to settle his personal taxes.[14]

In March 2011, the second and final report from the Moriarty Tribunal found that, during his time as Communications Minister, Michael Lowry assisted businessman Denis O'Brien's consortium Esat Digiphone in acquiring a lucrative mobile phone licence in the mid-1990s which ultimately made O'Brien one of the richest men in Ireland.[2]

It concluded "beyond doubt" that Lowry gave what it termed "substantive information to Denis O'Brien, of significant value and assistance to him in securing the licence".[2] The Tribunal report found that Lowry, displayed "an appreciable interest" in the process and had "irregular interactions with interested parties at its most sensitive stages".[2] It also found that one of Lowry's interventions, which cut the selection process to the advantage of Esat, was "disgraceful" and "insidious", and that he had misled the Government, his party leader John Bruton and his own civil servants to influence the selection process in Esat's favour.[15]

The tribunal also found that Lowry sought to procure unwarranted rent increases that over a seven-year period would have benefited businessman Ben Dunne. Lowry sought to influence the outcome of an arbitration being conducted in 1995 in relation to the rent payable by the then state-owned Telecom Éireann for Marlborough House to a company owned and controlled by Dunne. The report said that the matter was 'profoundly corrupt to a degree that was nothing short of breathtaking'.[2]

The report also summarised the cumulative payments made to Lowry and says 'In aggregating the known payments from Mr Denis O'Brien to Mr Michael Lowry, it is apposite to note that, between the granting of the second GSM licence to Esat Digiphone in May 1996, and the transmission of £420,000 sterling to complete the purchase of the latter of Mr Lowry's English properties in December 1999, Mr O'Brien had made or facilitated payments to Mr Lowry of £147,000 sterling, £300,000 sterling and a benefit equivalent to a payment in the form of Mr O'Brien's support for a loan of £420,000 sterling.'[2]

Lowry had addressed the Dáil saying that if he had been trying to hide a lot of money he would have "put it in an offshore account", implying that no such account existed. The Tribunal found that he actually had at least four such accounts that he used for the purpose of evading tax and had not disclosed these accounts to the previous McCracken Tribunal.[4]

Lowry rejected the Moriarty report claiming that it was flawed, and that the assumptions and the conclusions that Justice Moriarty arrived at were totally baseless.[15] Nonetheless, the Criminal Assets Bureau and the Bureau of Fraud were called in on 29 March 2011 to begin investigating his finances, since his €1.4 million settlement with the revenue commissioners did not grant him immunity from prosecution.[16]

On 31 March 2011, following the Moriarty Report's publication, the Dáil passed an all-party motion calling on Lowry to voluntarily resign his seat.[17]

Lowry v. Sam Smyth[edit]

In 2010, Lowry launched a defamation lawsuit against Irish Independent journalist Sam Smyth, over an article Smyth had written regarding the Moriarty Tribunal,[18] as well as comments Smyth had made on a TV3 show describing Lowry as having been "caught with his hand in the till."[19] Smyth defended the defamation claim, stating he had "did not call Michael Lowry TD a thief, but did believe he was a liar and a tax cheat".[20] Lowry's defamation lawsuit was thrown out in the Circuit court,[21] and again on appeal to the High Court.[22] High Court Justice Nicholas Kearns noted that Lowry "did not dispute that he engaged in tax fraud",[22] and ordered Lowry to pay Smyth's legal costs.[23]

Undeclared land interest[edit]

It emerged in October 2012 that Lowry owned land in Wigan which he had failed to declare in his register of members' interests. Between 2001 and 2003, the 25-acre site had been owned by Liam Carroll and Vineacre Ltd, a UK property company owned by him and Mr Lowry. Vineacre Ltd was removed from the title in 2003 and Lowry declared his Vineacre interest until the company was dissolved in 2008. The land then became Lowry's and Carroll's in their own names, but he failed to declare his interest from 2008 onwards.[24]

On 6 November 2012, Lowry amended his declaration to the Oireachtas to include the land interest, despite claiming previously that the land was "worthless". An unprecedented 380 complaints were made by members of the public in relation to the scandal, partly prompted by an article written by author Elaine Byrne.[25][26] According to rules, the property must be worth more than €13,000 to be declared an interest. Lowry claimed the complaints were part of an "orchestrated campaign" against him.[27]

As of December 2012, the probe into Lowry's failure to declare the land interest has been transferred to the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO).[28]

Relationship with Kevin Phelan[edit]

In March 2013, Northern Ireland land scout Kevin Phelan revealed that Lowry had made payments to him in 2002 of which only half had been disclosed to the Moriarty Tribunal. The Sunday Independent released a secret recording of a telephone conversation made by Phelan, in which Lowry asks for nothing to be revealed about the payment to the tribunal.[29] This was also broadcast on Tonight with Vincent Browne.[30][31]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Mr. Michael Lowry". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 27 September 2009. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Lowry helped O'Brien get mobile licence". RTÉ News. 22 March 2011. Retrieved 11 March 2011. 
  3. ^ Lynch, Andrew (23 March 2011). "If he'd been more careful, he could now be Taoiseach". Evening Herald. Retrieved 29 March 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c d Keena, Colm (23 March 2011). "Still topping polls despite frequent falls from grace". The Irish Times. Retrieved 28 March 2011. 
  5. ^ "Streamline Enterprises: Streamline Enterprises are market leaders in Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and HVAC solutions: Welcome to Streamline Enterprises Website". 
  6. ^ Smyth, Sam (23 March 2011). "The two-bit politician who committed daylight robbery". Irish Independent. Retrieved 23 March 2011. 
  7. ^ "Michael Lowry". ElectionsIreland.org. Retrieved 27 September 2009. 
  8. ^ Ni Bhraonain, Eimear (26 March 2011). "It's the personal touch that earns such a loyal following". Irish Independent. Retrieved 28 March 2011. 
  9. ^ "Lowry Team". Retrieved 29 March 2011. 
  10. ^ "Tipperary North". RTÉ News. 28 February 2011. Retrieved 26 February 2011. 
  11. ^ a b Ryan, Conor (1 December 2012). "Lowry's stock rises with sale of Wedding Morn foal". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 1 December 2012. 
  12. ^ Ryan, Conor (11 July 2012). "Lowry has €1m reasons to be happy". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 11 July 2012. 
  13. ^ Ryan, Conor (5 December 2012). "Lowry's bloodstock secures €813k". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 5 December 2012. 
  14. ^ O'Toole, Fintan (21 April 2009). "A country still in thrall to the likes of Lowry". The Irish Times. Retrieved 27 September 2009. 
  15. ^ a b Phelan, Shane (23 March 2011). "Lowry's disgrace". Irish Independent. Retrieved 23 March 2011. 
  16. ^ "CAB investigating Michael Lowry finances". RTÉ News. 29 March 2011. Retrieved 29 March 2011. 
  17. ^ "Lowry Motion passed without vote". RTÉ News. 31 March 2011. Retrieved 31 March 2011. 
  18. ^ "Tribunal will reveal findings on money trail to ex-minister". Irish Independent. 27 May 2010. Retrieved 27 May 2010. 
  19. ^ "Lowry loses High Court action". The Irish Times. 10 February 2012. Retrieved 10 February 2012. 
  20. ^ "Journalist says he called TD a tax cheat not a thief". The Irish Times. 12 December 2010. Retrieved 12 December 2010. 
  21. ^ "Sam Smyth awarded legal costs against Lowry". RTÉ News. 6 October 2011. Retrieved 6 October 2011. 
  22. ^ a b "High Court dismisses Lowry defamation appeal". RTÉ News. 10 February 2012. Retrieved 10 February 2012. 
  23. ^ McDonald, Dearbhail (11 February 2012). "'A good day for journalism' as Lowry loses libel appeal". Irish Independent. Retrieved 11 February 2012. 
  24. ^ Ryan, Conor (30 November 2012). "Links between Lowry's 'worthless' Wigan land and deals probed by Moriarty". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 30 November 2012. 
  25. ^ "Lowry may face standards probe after 380 complaints". Sunday Independent. 2 December 2012. Retrieved 12 December 2012. 
  26. ^ Byrne, Elaine (4 November 2012). "Stop giving out about Lowry and make an official complaint instead". Sunday Independent. Retrieved 4 November 2012. 
  27. ^ Brennan, Michael (29 November 2012). "Public inquiry to examine Lowry's land share in UK". Irish Independent. Retrieved 29 November 2012. 
  28. ^ Ryan, Conor (29 November 2012). "Lowry's UK land interest to be probed". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 29 November 2012. 
  29. ^ Keena, Colm (19 March 2013). "'Payment from Michael Lowry was part of agreement, says land scout'". The Irish Times. Retrieved 19 March 2013. 
  30. ^ "Lowry tape broadcast". TV3 News. 15 March 2013. Retrieved 15 March 2013. 
  31. ^ "Gardaí examining Lowry tape as conversation is aired on national TV: Independent TD Michael Lowry can be heard making reference to a £250,000 payment which he said he never declared". TheJournal.ie. 15 March 2013. Retrieved 15 March 2013. 

External links[edit]

Oireachtas
Preceded by
David Molony
(Fine Gael)
Fine Gael Teachta Dála for Tipperary North
19871997
Succeeded by
Himself
as Independent TD
Preceded by
Himself
as Fine Gael TD
Independent Teachta Dála for Tipperary North
1997–present
Incumbent
Political offices
Preceded by
Brian Cowen
Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications
1994–1996
Succeeded by
John Bruton
Party political offices
Preceded by
Tom Enright
Chairman of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party
1993–1994
Succeeded by
Jim Higgins