A Irish MP at the heart of Ireland's first major corruption scandal lost a libel judgment against the journalist who broke the story of his illicit gifts, a revelation that has inspired mammoth state probes into the scale of under-the-table lobbying in Irish politics it would seem whatever the British MP’s can do? So can the Irish MP’s and this the tip of the Irish iceberg of Irish MP’s corruptions.
A Dublin High Court judge ruled that journalist Sam Smyth had reasonable grounds of evidence to describe MP Michael Lowry as "a liar and a tax cheat."
Lowry's lawyers had sought a judgment that Smyth, one of Ireland's most prominent journalists, had no reasonable defence for his claims and had defamed Lowry as "a thief." They cited Smyth's appearance on an Irish current-affairs show in 2010 during which he described Lowry as the first of many Irish politicians to be caught with his "hand in the till," or cash register very much like the British MP’s.
But Justice Margaret Heneghan said Smyth had provided ample affidavits including of Lowry's initial 1996 denials of any impropriety in parliament, followed by his later exposure as a tax evader to suggest his descriptions were based on well-documented evidence.
In 1996, Smyth revealed in the Irish Independent newspaper that supermarket baron Ben Dunne had provided secret gifts to Lowry and former Prime Minister Charles Haughey. Lowry, a Cabinet minister in the mid-1990s, also owned a commercial refrigeration company that had contracts with Dunnes Stores, Ireland's biggest supermarket chain.
Lowry denies a growing list of allegations from a series of judicial probes since 1997 that he traded favours with businessmen in exchange for secret gifts and investment privileges.
But two taxpayer-financed probes into Lowry's business dealings and personal investments have determined that Dunne did pay, as Smyth reported, for construction of a new €500,000 euros wing on Lowry's family home. Lowry and his company in 2007 paid €1.4 million euros in unpaid tax and high penalties linked to that undeclared gift, which had appreciated in value.
Lowry denies providing any political favours for Dunne, who admits he also gave Haughey — Ireland's prime minister in 1979-82 and 1987-92 — at least €1.65 million euros.
Lowry is continuing to fight a 13-year investigation into his alleged dealings involving Irish telecoms tycoon Denis O'Brien and multimillion property purchases in Ireland and Britain.
Secret gifts to politicians were not explicitly illegal under Ireland's ill-drafted corruption laws until 1997, when the government drafted new rules and restrictions in response to public uproar over Haughey's gross profiteering while in office. Haughey died in 2006 after paying €6.5 million euros in overdue tax and penalties on his 1980s and 1990s gifts from businessmen.
Lowry was forced out of Ireland's Fine Gael party in 1997. But voters in his North Tipperary district have re-elected him to parliament as an independent for the past three elections.