Fourteen years a long time to produce Tribunal report
THERE IS a disparaging saying used to dismiss opinions, “What could you expect from a pig, but a grunt?” That adage could counter my views of the final Moriarty Tribunal Report. I was a member of cabinet in 1995, when Esat Digifone was awarded the licence and currently work in media owned by Denis O'Brien. I have been a colleague and friend of Michael Lowry for 30 years. I remain a tribunal sceptic. Fourteen years is an inexplicably long time to produce a magnus opus that has the mere standing of opinion, in terms of law enforcement. Full rigours of the Garda Fraud Squad, Criminal Assets Bureau and DPP should pursue any wrong doing. Some key conclusions are supposition that may not be sustained in the process of criminal law enforcement.
I vividly recall the cabinet meeting that ratified the award of the mobile telephone licence. It was a special evening meeting outside of the routine weekly government business. As confirmed by Moriarty, Ministers wanted to be at arms' length from the selection process. We were assured the Department of Communications, through the Secretary General John Loughrey, had carried out an independent, impartial, best practice competition. Attorney General Dermot Gleeson confirmed his office was satisfied it was merit based.
If Ministers attempted to unravel this process and interfere, we would be open to charges of partiality and improper conduct. I await public responses from both men to the report. They provided administrative and legal assurances of fairness and integrity to cabinet.
Despite topping the poll in Tipperary North in 1997, 2002, 2007 and 2011, Michael Lowry's reputation is severely damaged by the findings. It was extremely unwise of him to have meetings with licence applicants, without civil servants present. As Minister, I insisted on having public officials present for meetings of a commercial nature.
Lowry has a ' chequered career' in relation to tax default. FG expelled him for these actions. His role with Ben Dunne in a rent review involving Eircom was most irregular and wrong. He faces severe difficulties with likely lack of recoupment of Tribunal legal expenses. Due process must and will apply to him, especially as a Member of Parliament.
Judge Michael Moriarty was obliged to alter original preliminary findings due to factual errors. He showed questionable judgement in appointing to his legal tribunal team a barrister, who acted as legal advisor to the unsuccessful Persona licence applicant.
Any lawyer involved in the original competition should not have been considered for such work. To avoid future vexation from aggrieved losers for such competitions, new procedures must be considered. Given the enormous benefit conferred, it would be fairer to determine the competition on the basis of the highest bidder. A beauty contest will always be subjective and open to criticism. A tendering process would yield the highest return to the tax payer. No recommendation is made in this fundamental regard.
A complete ban of corporate donations to political parties would have been an appropriate overall proposal from the Justice. The Flood Tribunal Report has subsequently been torn to pieces in the Supreme Court. The Tribunal process is discredited by virtue of cost, delay and irrelevance.
The solution? Dáil Committees must be given full powers to carry out such enquiries in future to ensure proper speedy accountability of public administration.
ROUND & ROUND THE MERRY-GO-ROUND
Last week's EU Summit of Prime Ministers was billed as the platform for a 'Grand Bargain'. Revised architecture for the European Stability Fund was expected to ensure adequate resources to provide for bailout needs of delinquent Eurozone states. It was a damp squib. European leaders, EU Commission and ECB seem to occupy a parallel planet to financial markets.
Irish Government bonds, over two and ten year periods now exceed 10% cost of fundraising. Differential pricing between us and Germany is now so great that investors have included for inevitability of a default. Dithering and delay by Eurocrats in facing the reality of unsustainable debt repayments is remarkable.
The most urgent and important priority for the new government is to fix the banks. It was sensible to postpone consideration of adjustments to the Irish bailout until after the latest stress tests on banks were completed. 1% reduction in cost of funds and retention of our 12.5% Corporation Tax rate will be achieved. These are side shows.
The agreement reached between the last Government and the EU/IMF is now unworkable. The banks need even more cash.
Expect the final figure, based on a worst case scenario, to be an additional €50bn for an Irish bank bailout - this is on top of €46bn already committed (disregarding €30bn committed to Nama). Banks have been kept open, avoiding turbulent liquidation, by virtue of a transfusion of €120bn from the ECB and €70bn from our Central Bank.
Over the past three years there has been a steady withdrawal of deposits from our institutions. Losses from property related lending are catastrophic. Combined loan books of banks equate to five times the size of the Irish economy. The Irish tax payer cannot repay €10bn a year in interest.
Soon, the penny will drop in Frankfurt - they may not get their €120bn back any time soon. Delusional denial continues apace.
COME AND COLLECT
Money is tight in every household, yet remarkably, more than €100ml in tax relief is unclaimed each year. This relates to medical expenses, rental accommodation costs and other expenditures that are not being offset against income tax. Every tax payer is entitled to go back four years for unclaimed costs. If in doubt, those at work should phone 1890306706 to obtain tax return forms. Check with your chemist, doctor and landlord for past costs.
Genuine expenses incurred by taxpayers doing their job can also be allowed (e.g. tools, equipment and special work clothes). An upper limit of €400 applies to tax relief on local service charges, recoupable on a prior year basis. If your employer has paid your medical insurance, you may be entitled to tax relief. Where there were dual incomes, now reduced to one income, you should immediately apply for a balancing statement and maximise revised credits and allowances.
Onus of fair treatment depends entirely on you the tax payer. Time to be savvy, save every cent you can.
Lowry has a ‘chequered career’ in relation to tax default. FG expelled him for these actions
Aintree Grand National is on next Saturday. I suggest an Each Way investment on Big Fella Thanks. He completed the arduous course twice, finishing 6th and 4th in the past two years, changing ownership and switching stables from Paul Nicholls to Ferdy Murphy.
Graham Lee takes the ride having previously won he race in 2004. His last run in Newbury was most promising, staying on well at the finish. He had a recent brilliant work out at the Liverpool track. At odds of 16/1, he is the safest option in this most hazardous steeple chase.
Despite being a poll topper in successive elections Michael Lowry's reputation is severely damaged by the findings of the Moriarty Tribunal.
Money is tight in every household, yet remarkably, more than €100 million in tax relief is unclaimed each year.