A formal complaint has been lodged by Independent TD Michael Lowry concerning how a note he sent to the Taoiseach came to be in the public sphere. Last Wednesday the High Court was informed of the complaint by Mr Lowry’s counsel Patrick Treacy SC, who told Mr Justice Seamus Noonan that the manner in which the note had been made available to the public was prejudicial towards his client, who is currently facing trial on alleged tax offences.
Mr Treacy was in court seeking permission to bring a High Court challenge aimed at preventing the Tipperary North TD’s tax offences trial before Dublin Circuit Court. Six grounds for judicial review were set out by Mr Treacy, amongst which was the controversial note issue. He said that articles published in the wake of the controversy depicted his client “as a person who is sexist or who is derogatory towards women or who has a sexist attitude towards women.” This, Mr Treacy contended, could prejudice potential jurors of whom 50% would be female. The judge granted permission for judicial review having found that there was an arguable case for each ground proffered by the TD.
The note in question came to be in the public domain when the Sunday Independent published its contents last month. The handwritten note had been sent by the TD to the Taoiseach in the Dáil via an usher and concerned the reappointment of Valerie O’Reilly to the National Transport Board. In it Mr Lowry had recommended that Ms O’Reilly retain her position, saying that she was “a woman, bright, intelligent and not bad looking either”.
In an interview on RTÉ radio following publication of the note it was put to Mr Lowry that the last comment was sexist. In reply Mr Lowry claimed it was merely “a light hearted, unnecessary” one and charged the media with being overly politically correct. So far from backing down on the issue, Mr Lowry asserted that he had never known a woman to take “exception to a compliment on her appearance”. The former Fine Gael TD asserted that he had no regrets over the matter.
Ms O’Reilly, a former PR advisor to Mr Lowry, made no comment on the reference to her appearance in a statement, instead merely saying that she was willing to stay on the National Transport Authority board and had made Mr Lowry aware of this as her local TD. Given this previous working relationship between the two, accusations of cronyism were levelled at Lowry in approaching the Taoiseach on the matter. Mr Lowry rejected all such accusations and stated that all interaction between him and Ms O’Reilly’s company, Unicorn PR, had been conducted on a purely professional basis.
The TD did lash out at the Labour Party, contending that a member had leaked the note for political purposes. Environment Minister Alan Kelly, while declining to describe the comment as sexist, said it was “stupid and silly” and that Mr Lowry would do better to admit this rather than “trying to blame the Labour Party” as the “Labour Party didn’t write the note”.