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Andrew Lynch: Despite €150m cost, Moriarty Tribunal will go down as a monument to incompetence of our political and legal systems

Justice Michael Moriarty's final tribunal report took 14 years to produce, cost the best part of €150m, runs to almost 2,400 pages and would probably break your computer if you tried to print the whole thing out.

Luckily for people who have other things to do with their lives, its findings are summed up in just one key sentence.

Michael Lowry's "cynical and venal abuse of office" displayed "qualities similar in nature" to Charlie Haughey and "has cast a shadow over this country's public life".

So where exactly does this get us? Unfortunately, the answer is: not very far.

Despite all the fanfare, the evidence in this report cannot be used in a court of law unless it's verified by yet another inquiry -- which means that the chances of anyone ending up behind bars are extremely slim.

Damning

As Lowry and others have been quick to point out, the report is essentially just one man's interpretation of the truth.

It makes several damning allegations against the former Fine Gael minister, Denis O'Brien and Ben Dunne, all of which they have angrily denied.

There is still no smoking gun, which means that ultimately you have to make your own mind up about who to believe.

What the report doesn't tell you is that, in its own way, this tribunal is a bigger scandal than anything it has been investigating.

When it was first set up in September 1997, the general view was that it would be over in time for Christmas.

Instead it rambled on like some grotesque national soap opera, with lawyers being paid up to €2,500 a day and submitting expense claims for such vital legal aids as Belgian chocolates.

This may be unfair to the judge -- but just like the allegations in this document, there's no absolute proof either way.

Given all the mud that's flying around, it's important to stress that the report does not actually claim Lowry made the wrong decision in awarding the GSM mobile phone licence to Esat Digifone.

That would have opened up the floodgates to a series of legal challenges from the unsuccessful bidders, although some of them may be tempted to look for compensation anyway.

Nobody can deny that Denis O'Brien made the most of the opportunity he was given, which is why he is such a wealthy man today.

Embarrassing

The report is certainly embarrassing for Enda Kenny's new Government, which contains no fewer than six people who sat around the Cabinet with Lowry in the mid-90s.

Since Moriarty concludes that the Tipperary man pulled the wool over their eyes, however, it is unlikely to do them any long-term damage.

Because Lowry was chucked out of Fine Gael a long time ago, the new Taoiseach can present this as just an unfortunate bit of history -- although Kenny certainly needs to produce a more convincing defence than he managed during his weak performance in the Dail yesterday.

Micheal Martin may huff and puff, but Fianna Fail is not exactly in a position to preach about low standards in high places.

The same goes for Sinn Fein, even though that won't stop Gerry Adams from performing his holier-than-thou act yet again.

When all the fuss dies down, the biggest loser of all will be the taxpayer -- who must foot another massive bill for the State's failure to properly investigate its own scandals.

Dermot Desmond has already described the Moriarty Report as the most expensive comic ever produced.

Unfortunately, it does not exactly contain a lot of laughs.

Instead, this tribunal will go down in history as a monument to the incompetence of our political and legal systems -- and it must never be allowed to happen again.