Michael Moriarty: proposed to issue report in two sections

THE leaders of the main political parties will this week come together to rebuff Judge Michael Moriarty's proposal to issue his tribunal report in two separate sections, released at different stages.

It is expected the party leaders – who will meet on Wednesday afternoon to agree a joint approach – will ask the Moriarty tribunal to produce one report and to do so as expeditiously as possible.

Sources said that consideration would be given at the meeting to setting a deadline for the tribunal – which has run for 13 years – to finish.

However, there is a view that it is impossible to put a timescale on when the tribunal will finish because of the potential for unforeseen developments. "There would be a desire to do so but in reality it might prove difficult," said one senior politician.

It is also expected the staffing levels will be raised at the meeting, given the fact that Judge Moriarty indicated in his letter to the Oireachtas last week that his work was between 80% and 90% completed and that only one witness rem­ained to be called.

The tribunal has operated with a staff of 14, made up of the chairman, three senior counsel, two junior counsel, a documentary research counsel, a solicitor and six administrative staff.

It was reported last week that the tribunal was looking to retain another senior counsel to stand in for John Coughlan, who has been off sick.

Wednesday's meeting will be attended by Taoiseach Brian Cowen, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore, Green leader John Gormley and Sinn Féin's Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.

While the content of their response will only be finalised on Wednesday, all the parties have already agreed that there can be no question of endorsing Moriarty's proposal that he would first publish a report on the "money trail".

This involves former minister Michael Lowry, with the investigation into the awarding of the second mobile phone licence coming at a later stage. Legal sources suggested that Judge Moriarty's approach could breach the tribunal's terms of reference and would certainly be challenged.

"Such an approach would be a disaster. It would lead to litigation before and after the first report came out and you wouldn't get the second one for years," one senior opposition figure said.

There is exasperation within the Dáil at the duration and cost of the tribunal, particularly in the wake of an admission of errors by Judge Moriarty.

There was an extraordinary intervention by Enda Kenny in the Dáil over two weeks ago, when he asked: "Does the Taoiseach believe that the sole chairman of the tribunal is now in a position to produce a credible and impartial report?"

The Sunday Tribune re­vealed last weekend that the tribunal had withdrawn a number of key provisional findings involving businessman Dermot Des­mond and relating to the ownership of the Esat Digifone consortium that won the mobile phone licence in the mid-1990s.

The Sunday Tribune has also learned Judge Moriarty has signalled he is considering whether other points in his provisional findings of late 2008 should also be withdrawn or changed.