The Supreme Court has cleared the way for two unsuccessful bidders to challenge the granting of the second mobile phone licence to Esat Digifone.

In 1995, businessman Denis O'Brien was awarded the licence to operate the State's second mobile phone network.

Comcast International Holdings Incorporated and Persona Digital Telephony Ltd initiated separate actions in 2001 against the State, the Minister for Public Enterprise, Esat Digifone and its former chairman Denis O'Brien, in which they challenged the licence award.

The companies were seeking millions of euro in damages.

In June 2007, the State secured orders from the High Court stopping the cases on grounds of inordinate and inexcusable delay in prosecuting them.

A similar motion by Mr O'Brien to halt the action against him on grounds of delay was "parked" pending the outcome of the consortia's appeals to the Supreme Court against the halting of their cases against the State.

In the appeals, counsel for both consortia argued they were entitled to await the outcome of the Moriarty Tribunal investigation into the licence award.

They said they could not have prosecuted the claim without that and certain other material.

A five-judge Supreme Court today allowed the appeals in a brief hearing.

The Chief Justice, Ms Justice Susan Denham, said the court would allow the appeals and give its reasons in a written judgment later.

In their substantive actions, the consortia have alleged fraud, conspiracy, deceit, corruption and misfeasance in public office in relation to the mobile licence award.

Former communications minister Michael Lowry has welcomed the Supreme Court decision, saying a court of law is the proper forum to critically probe the award process.

Deputy Lowry said the claim by the losing consortia challenging the decision was "without merit or substance and should be vigorously defended by the State".

He said he was happy that the court challenge will be governed by strict rules of evidence where facts must be established, and where sworn evidence "will have to be accurately adjudicated on to the exclusion of hearsay and opinion".

Declan Ganley, who was involved in the Comcast bid, tonight said: "We welcome the Supreme Court's decision today. We need to see the full detail of the judgment when its published and will proced with full vigour on all fronts."