Michael Lowry must resign. Those are the four magic words that everybody is willing Enda Kenny to say in the ongoing Dail debate on the Moriarty Report. So far, the Taoiseach hasn't said them -- and, until he does, this controversy still has the potential to inflict a major blow on his own credibility.
Of course, Lowry would probably refuse to give up his Dail seat even if Barack Obama himself ordered it during his visit to Moneygall. The disgraced TD's speech was an hour-long orgy of self-pity, during which he failed to come up with even a single word of apology or justification for his actions. As far as Martyred Michael is concerned, he is the victim of a judicial and media witch hunt -- and it doesn't seem to have occurred to him that his tax-dodging past means it is no longer possible to believe anything he says.
Although Lowry cannot admit it in public, Justice Moriarty has actually done him one huge favour. Because the tribunal took a crazy 14 years to produce its report, any money trail that once existed between him and the successful mobile phone bidders has gone extremely cold. The gardai and CAB will do their best, but the chances of a successful prosecution at this stage look very slim.
So if the legal consequences are doubtful, what about the political consequences?
To be fair to Enda Kenny, he is not just trying to brush the mess under the carpet. He has already promised a ban on corporate donations, a register of lobbyists and new legislation to protect whistleblowers. But if the Taoiseach really wants to convince us that he gets it, he must go one step further -- and clearly disassociate himself from the man who sat with him at the Cabinet table in the mid-90s. The awkward reality for Kenny is that there are still too many links for comfort between then and now.
His senior adviser Mark Kennelly worked directly for Lowry when that controversial phone licence was awarded in 1995, while his closest Cabinet colleague Phil Hogan is still good friends with the Tipperary TD. Again, to be fair to both Kennelly and Hogan, there has been no suggestion of any impropriety on their part. The explanation for that $50,000 donation from Telenor sounds uncannily like Father Ted's defence of, "The money was just resting in my account!"
Moriarty's report has already had one unexpected consequence for FG. Up until now, ex-Taoiseach John Bruton could have been a very strong candidate in the upcoming presidential election. Now the man who Lowry once claimed was his "best friend forever" would be plagued with questions about his own role in the affair, since Moriarty finds that his Cabinet was basically asleep on the job.
While Kenny dithers, the opposition are starting to scent blood.
Fianna Fail has declared that if Lowry does not quit, it will put down a Dail motion demanding his resignation. This may be more than a little hypocritical since it was happy to cut private deals with him for the past 14 years -- but as Micheal Martin showed during the election campaign, he intends to lead FF as if the Bertie-Biffo era was all a bad dream.
Martin would be wise to remember that Moriarty is not the only tribunal with a report due this year. The Mahon inquiry will probably publish its findings in a few months and is likely to have some interesting things to say about Bertie Ahern's personal finances. When that happens, the FF leader will have the same dilemma that the Taoiseach faces today -- condemn his former colleague or look as if he is covering up for him.
For Kenny, it should be an easy choice. Michael Lowry has become a symbol of the corrupt past that this country needs to ditch. The new Taoiseach must show that he understands this -- and order him to never darken the doors of Leinster House again.