Priority Questions. - Mobile Phone Consortium Funding.

Seamus Brennan

Question:

14 Mr. S. Brennan asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications whether he was aware of the ways in which the second mobile phone licence consortium was funded, in view of recent statements (details supplied). [3854/97]

I regret there continues to be confusion on this issue.

The reply I gave to a written question on 19 December sets out the definitive position on ownership of the 20 per cent of Esat Digifone which appears to be contentious. It could not be any clearer. That reply states:

The Secretary of my Department announced on 19 April that the application by Esat Digifone for the GSM licence disclosed an intention to place 20 per cent of the equity with financial investors in the period leading up to the award of the licence. The application was supported by letters of intent from a number of highly reputable financial institutions. At the time of award of the licence some two months later, it was certified to my Department that the 20 per cent had been placed with IIU Nominees Ltd. which was wholly owned by Mr. Dermot Desmond.

The reference to the statement by the Secretary contained in the details supplied with today's question is not accurate. IIU Nominees is now, and was at the time of the award of the licence, the sole investor in the 20 per cent of the equity available to financial investors. The question of a list did not arise. Presumably the Deputy is referring to a number of potential investors for which the Department had given indicative approval at the time of the licence application.

Will the Minister resolve what appears to be a conflict? The Secretary of the Department said at the press conference announcing the licence that a list of potential investors was handed to and known by the Department. In the Sunday World of 2 February the former Minister, Deputy Lowry, said——

Quotations are not in order at Question Time.

The former Minister, Deputy Lowry, indicated he did not know, nor did the Department know, anything about the financing. He indicated he knew nothing about the source of the financing or who organised it. The Secretary indicated that a list of potential investors was handed to the Department. Can the Minister resolve that apparent conflict? Will he review the files in light of the revelation in the Sunday World article of a connection that appears to exist between the former Minister, Deputy Lowry, and a firm of financial accountants involved in the fund raising for Esat Digifone? Given that the licence is almost a year old, what does the Minister intend to do about getting it up and running?

The Deputy is confused in several respects. At the press conference on 19 April 1996 the Secretary of the Department made it clear that five of the six applicants had declared an intention to place minority stakes with outside investors mainly by way of share flotation or placement. That is what happened and what produced IIU Nominees, which is wholly owned by Mr. Dermot Desmond. I do not have any responsibility to explain to the Deputy or to interpret for him how he should read a particular shabby little article in the Sunday World. I would not presume to advise him on how he should try to interpret that. When he refers to financing, I gather he is referring to a completely different financing operation in which Esat Digifone was involved recently. It raised quite a substantial amount of finance on markets in a way totally unconnected with this licence.

That is not the case.

The Deputy's question about an alleged connection is shabby and unworthy of him. I am not prepared to comment on the progress by Esat Digifone. There are certain conditions in the licence. I will answer a question on it shortly and if the Deputy waits until then, I will say everything that needs to be said about it at that stage.

The Minister's response to this question is arrogant and shabby.

The Deputy made allegations that were proven to be baseless.

Let us hear the Deputy in possession.

I asked questions of the Minister responsible for this area and he does not appear to want to answer them. It is quite clear the Minister is not prepared to "unpick" any of the decisions of the former Minister, Deputy Lowry. That is entirely unsatisfactory. The Minister says that IIU owns 20 per cent of Esat. No questions are asked by his Department as to who is the beneficial owner. The company is still off the air after a year with no proposals from the Department to get it on the air.

A Sunday newspaper indicated the financial advisers who helped to put the funds together for this scheme had a connection, albeit tenuous, with the former Minister. Does the Minister intend to review the files in light of this suggestion or does he regard as shabby every point with which he does not agree?

The Deputy talks about who owns 20 per cent of IIU and has been running with this for months. The fact is that 20 per cent of Esat Digifone is owned by IIU. The sole beneficial owner of IIU, as far as I can determine after extensive investigations, is Mr. Dermot Desmond. There is, therefore, no basis for allegations which were touted around, and which the Deputy has run with at various times in the past, that there was some connection between people involved in providing the capital for this project and the former Minister. The Deputy better get his mind clear on that because there is no future for him in trying still to suggest there was any improper connection. That matter has been dealt with comprehensively from beginning to end. The Deputy is literally punch drunk on this.

I do not suggest any improper connection.

He has been around that track so often that he now talks about 20 per cent of IIU.

The Minister knows about that. It is still off the air.

Let us hear the reply.

That is an entirely different question to which I will come later.

The Minister has no answers.

A question has been tabled on that matter. The company has an obligation under the terms of the contract to go on air accessible to 80 per cent of the population by a date in this month.

Given that it has to be on the air by a date in this month, does the Minister propose to have discussions with the company to see how he might assist it in coming on air? I am not suggesting any improper connections between any Members of this House or former Ministers.

Weasel questions, the usual kind.

I am simply asking the Minister whether he intended to review the files in light of suggestions in the media.

There is a question down about Esat Digifone's operations and I will answer those matters when we come to it.

We have exceeded the time allocated for priority questions but, unlike the first three priority questions, Standing Orders provide that we may take the final two priority questions as ordinary questions. Therefore, these will be taken in the category of other questions.