Michael Andersen: his evidence has increased the pressure on the tribunal

THE Moriarty Tribunal has lost the confidence of the Oireachtas which established it 13 years ago, a Sunday Tribune opinion poll of TDs and senators has established.

A staggering two-thirds of Oireachtas members responded 'No' when asked if they had confidence in the tribunal, which is currently investigating the awarding of the second mobile phone licence to Esat Digifone.

Just 22.5% of TDs and senators expressed confidence in the long-running tribunal, with a further 11.5% undecided or neutral.

All members of the Oireachtas (excluding party leaders, cabinet ministers, Ceann Comhairle Séamus Kirk, Leas Ceann Com­hairle Brendan Howlin and Seanad Cathaoirleach Pat Moylan) were contacted last week and asked one question: "Do you have confidence in the Moriarty tribunal?"

A total of 129 TDs and senators responded, representing almost two-thirds of those contacted. The findings of the poll confirm private mutterings in the corridors of Leinster House. With a few exceptions such as Senator Jim Walsh, Ned O'Keeffe and Michael Lowry, who is being investigated by the tribunal, TDs and senators have remained reluctant to publicly criticise the tribunal, which was established in September 1997.

However, in private, there is growing despair about the duration, cost and conduct of the tribunal. This is borne out in the poll findings.

Asked if he had confidence in the tribunal, one TD dryly responded: "I have confidence that it will outlive me."

The recent evidence of Danish consultant Michael Andersen, who advised the government during the competition in 1995 and has strongly criticised the tribunal, has increased the pressure on Moriarty.

A number of TDs contacted were willing to go on the record. Timmy Dooley, Fianna Fáil TD for Clare, said: "I have completely lost confidence in the tribunal. I had my suspicions until I heard Professor Andersen but that has confirmed my suspicions about Moriarty."

Independent Fianna Fáil TD Mattie McGrath referred to the "worrying revelations" emerging from the tribunal and said it was going on "far too long" and had become "a gravy train for barristers".

One opposition TD said when he heard about the High Court's criticism of the delay in holding the Donegal South- West by-election he "felt like saying 'what about the Moriarty tribunal it's been running for two lifetimes?'"

There was little consolation for the tribunal from those expressing confidence, with many of them qualifying their answer with reservations about the length of time it has taken to report and the overall costs.

One senator said: "I do have confidence, yes, on the basis that they will reach a conclusion. But it should be shut down."

Another TD responded: "Yes, but you no doubt heard my hesitancy before I answered."

Only one member of the Oireachtas declined to respond to the question as he claimed that it was "inappropriate" for politicians to cast judgement on a member of the judiciary.

The lack of confidence in the tribunal was not confined to any particular party or specifically to either the Dáil or Seanad, with the dissent spread between the two houses and across the political spectrum.

All of the political party leaders wrote to Moriarty earlier this year expressing anxiety that the "tribunal's work would be completed as soon as possible consistent with its mandate".

In recent weeks, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said he shared "the concerns of so many people at the length of time it has taken and the costs that have accrued through legal fees".