Denis O’Brien Might Try To Silence The Government, But He Won’t Silence Me

Denis O'Brien Catherine Murphy TDThere’s a concept known as “Parliamentary Privilege“, used in both the British and Irish Houses of Parliament, which grants members of both houses legal immunity and protection against civil or criminal liability for actions done or statements made in the course of their legislative duties. It allows members to speak freely during ordinary parliamentary proceedings without fear of legal action on the grounds of slander or contempt of court.

This allows Members to raise questions or debate issues which could slander an individual, interfere with an ongoing court case or threaten to reveal state secrets, and plays a perfectly useful and legitimate purpose in a democracy, when legislators are elected in order to govern in the best interests of the electorate who chose them.

However, Irish billionaire Mr. Denis O’Brien would have you think otherwise. In fact, his opinion on the matter is so strong that he has actually gone to court and successfully sought an injunction to gag the Irish press from reporting what an elected Irish parliamentarian said during a session of the Dáil about Mr. O’Brien.

Unlike corrupt dictatorships such as Russia, Azerbaijan or Syria, for example, Ireland’s press supposedly enjoy the legal right to print, publish or broadcast a story without the molestation of the Irish government, or anyone else for that matter, especially if it simply reprinting what was said during a session of the Oireachtas.

What has Mr. O’Brien so scared? Well, it’s really very simple. Ms Catherine Murphy TD, is an Independent TD for Kildare North. She outlined a series of revelations in the Dáil on May 28th, which concerned alleged preferential treatment given to Mr. O’Brien by IBRC, formerly Anglo Irish Bank.

The claims emerged as Ms Murphy introduced a bill to permit the Comptroller and Auditor General to investigate the sale of Siteserv to Mr O’Brien and other IBRC transactions.

Her speech to the members of the Dáil was as follows;

“This bill extends the functions and powers, or seeks to extend the functions and powers of the C & AG [Comptroller and Auditor General] to cover IBRC. It was the Taoiseach that first suggested that the C & AG review the Siteserv sale’s process and it was then pointed out to him that IBRC does not come within his remit.”

“With this Bill, I’m attempting to address that problem by broadening the remit of the C & AG. The reason I’m anticipating the need to involve the C & AG, if not a full Commission of Investigation, which may well be a better option, is because I believe the Government have got this badly wrong, not least because most of the key players in the Siteserv saga have links with KPMG and its eventual purchaser and vice versa, is a web of connections and conflicts, that requires outside eyes to unravel.

I have no doubt that the special liquidator [Kieran Wallace] is more than capable of doing such a review but his direct involvement in the sale process, and his relationship with the eventual purchaser of Siteserv, and his current actions in the High Court, in supporting Mr O’Brien versus RTE, place him in a position where there is, at the very least, a perceived conflict of interest, if not an actual conflict of interest.

The review is not confined to Siteserv but it is the transaction that prompted a review. I would worry about the transactions that have been excluded from the review, given that what we now know, that in the final months before prom night, the relationship between the department and IBRC had completely broken down.

“If deals were being done without the knowledge or input of the minister then we need to know what they were. We are now aware for example that the former CEO of IBRC made verbal agreements with Denis O’Brien to allow him to extend the terms of his already expired loans.

We also know that the verbal agreement was never escalated to the credit committee for approval. I’m led to believe, and I would welcome the minister clarifying, the rates applicable at this time, that the extension also attracted some extremely favourable interest terms.

I understand that Mr O’Brien was enjoying a rate of around 1.25%, when IBRC, and arguably, when IBRC could, and arguably should have been charging 7.5%. We are talking about outstanding sums here that are upwards of €500 million. The interest rate applied is not an insignificant issue for the public interest.

We also know that Denis O’Brien felt confident enough, in his dealings with IBRC that he could write to Kieran Wallace, as the special liquidator and demand that the same favourable terms extended to him by way of a verbal agreement could be continued.

We now have Kieran Wallace, who’s been appointed by the Government to conduct a review into the IBRC review, actually joining with IBRC and Denis O’Brien in the High Court and seeking to injunct the information I’ve outlined from coming into the public domain – surely that alone represents a conflict.

In FOI documents released to me, the minister, his officials and the Central Bank and even the Troika acknowledge that IBRC, the former Anglo Irish Bank, is no ordinary bank and there’s a significant public interest because the bank had been fully nationalised and was in wind-down mode.

They all accept that this is the people’s money that we’re dealing with and that there can be no dispute regarding the public interest in this. The same FOI materials detail incidences where the minister can specifically intervene, and issue an ministerial order that material matters have significant interest. Included in these material matters are incidences that are outside the ordinary course of business.

I would argue that what I’ve outlined out here regarding verbal deals, extensions, etc, are outside the normal course of business and I would ask the minister to exercise his right to intervene in the current proceedings and defend the public interest.

“I’ve a motion on the order papers, signed by the majority of the Opposition – 45 members have signed it and more are welcome to – calling for a debate into the proposed review. When I tried to raise it on the order of business, I was silenced and I was told to take it up with my Whip. I am the Whip of the Technical Group and I did raise it at the weekly Whip’s meeting.

The Government Chief Whip told me that they would not be altering the KPMG review, the Government would not be giving time to debate this issue and suggested that we use Private Members’ time.

It’s not just an Opposition issue, minister. This is an issue for all in this house. It’s an issue of serious public concern where there is public money involved and I know, if you got your hands on maybe an extra €20 million, I don’t think you’d have to think too hard on how to spend that money. I urge the Government to reconsider this and give the Bill and the motion the time they deserve. I believe this is in the public interest. Thank you.”

Mr. O’Brien, who is said to be worth about €7bn, is considered Ireland’s richest man with widespread interests, including mobile phones, oil and aircraft leasing. He lives in Malta for tax purposes. He had argued that even the rich and powerful had a right to privacy and that Murphy’s remarks were “materially inaccurate”, based on stolen information and made in breach of an earlier injunction he had got against RTÉ banning it from reporting details of his banking arrangements.

RTÉ, which had been independently investigating the telecoms and media tycoon, consulted its lawyers and did not broadcast details of Murphy’s speech as it feared they could have been in breach of the O’Brien injunction granted 10 days previous. It was imposed despite RTÉ contending that press freedom, public interest and legitimate journalistic inquiry should be paramount.

The Irish Times initially reported the remarks online but then removed its article following a letter from O’Brien’s lawyers.

Even the former Attorney General, Michael McDowell, has said it is “absurd” to tell media outlets they can’t report on the speech given by independent TD Catherine Murphy in the Dáil .

“We now also have the ridiculous situation in which O’Brien’s spokesman uses the airwaves to condemn Deputy Murphy for ‘peddling lies’ in the Dáil but listeners are not told what her allegation is,” said McDowell.

It should also be noted that Denis O’Brien is the major shareholder in Ireland’s Independent News and Media Group, which owns The Irish Independent newspaper. It also publishes the Irish Daily Star, the Sunday Independent, the Sunday World, Dublin’s Evening Herald and a raft of other regional titles north and south of the border.

The Irish Independent, which is controlled by Mr. O’Brien, is Ireland’s best-selling daily newspaper. They are quoted as saying that “Mr O’Brien successfully stopped RTÉ from broadcasting the details which Ms Murphy raised in the Dáil”.

Mr. O’Brien is big in radio too, through his Communicorp group which owns two major national stations, Newstalk and Today FM, plus three regional stations.

So, the owner of the large majority of Ireland’s media outlets is using an injunction to prevent reports on his affairs appearing in the rest of the media he doesn’t control. Sounds like something one would expect from the likes of Vladimir Putin!

The fear he wields through his high priced lawyers has now prevented the Irish media from reporting even privileged Dáil speech, and it shows how dangerous the extent of the O’Brien empire is for Irish media and society in general. Mr O’Brien may justifiably claim a right to reputation, but the right of the press to report parliamentary proceedings is paramount in a functioning democracy.

I’m really beginning to think that O’Brien is Ireland’s equivalent to a dictator. His latest bid to gag the rest of the Irish media he doesn’t already own is something you might expect from the likes of Putin, Assad or China’s Xi Jinping.

This is Ireland for fuck sake. The country that showed the world only a fortnight ago that we stand for equality. That equality also extends to a free press and the freedom of speech!

Clearly, there are questions to ask about the press freedom implications due to Ireland’s lack of media plurality and diversity. Given that this is hosted outside the Irish Republic, written by someone outside of Ireland, I’m going to enjoy the letter his lawyers send to me. I think I’ll file it under “garbage” 😉

Nemtsov Murder Inquiry – Detective Putin On The Case

Here are just some of the latest cartoons/memes do the rounds on the internet regarding Putin’s decision to “personally handle the investigation” into Boris Nemtsov’s murder. As one Canadian politician succinctly put it, “It’s like the wolf investigating the disappearance of little red riding hood”.

The FSB have already laid the blame at Ukraine’s doorstep, blaming the SBU. Despite the fact that this is lacking in any evidence to support such a claim, it’s also without any merit as the Ukrainian government and security services received significant support from Nemtsov as he railed against Putin’s illegal war against and occupation of Ukraine. Suffice to say, Detective Putin is on the case, so we can all sleep soundly at night knowing that the killers will be caught and prosecuted…..NOT!

Putin Polonium Detective Putin

Did The World Get A Little Absurd in 2014?

Scales Tipped So much of the news this year has been hopeless, depressing and, above all, confusing. Take for example the main topics which have been repeatedly covered by mainstream media over the past twelve months – Ebola, ISIS, Austerity, Ukraine, Russia, Syria, Phone Hacking, Child Abuse, Foreign Exchange Rigging, Beheading, Groping Disc Jockey’s, Kim Kardashian’s Arse, Eat Vegetables or DIE.

To which is the only response is “Oh Dear”.

This defeatist response has become the central part of a new system of political control. To understand how this is happening you have to look at Russia, to a man called Vladislav Surkov.

Surkov is one of President Putin’s advisors and has helped him maintain his power for 15 years. But he has done it in a very new way. He came originally from the avant-garde art world, and those who have studied his career say that what Surkov has done is to import ideas from conceptual art into the very heart of politics.

His aim is to undermine people’s perception of the world so they never know what is really happening. Surkov turned Russian politics into a bewildering, constantly changing piece of theatre. He sponsored all kinds of groups from Neo-Nazi skinheads to liberal human rights groups. He even backed parties that were opposed to President Putin. But the key thing was that Surkov then let it be known that this was what he was doing. Which meant that no one was sure what was real and what was fake.

As one journalist put it, “It’s a strategy of power that keeps any opposition constantly confused. A ceaseless shapeshifting that is unstoppable because it’s indefinable”. Which is exactly what Surkov is alleged to have done in Ukraine this year.

In typical fashion, as the war began, Surkov published a short story about something he called “non-linear war”. A war where you’re never really sure what the enemy are really up to, or even who they really are. The underlying aim, Surkov says, is not to win the war, but to use the conflict to create a constant state of destabilised perception in order to manage and control.

Maybe we have something similar emerging here in the West. Everything we’re told by journalists and politicians is confusing and contradictory. Of course, there is no Mr.  Surkov or his equivalent in charge, but it’s an odd non-linear world that plays into the hands of those in power.

NATO troops have come home from Afghanistan, but nobody seems to know whether it was a victory or whether it was a defeat. Aging disc-jockeys are prosecuted for crimes they committed decades ago, yet practically no one in the City of London is prosecuted for the endless financial crimes that are being revealed month after month. In Syria, we are told that President Assad is the evil enemy, but then his enemies, ISIS, turn out to be even more evil than him. So we bomb them, and by doing that we help keep Assad in power.

But the real epicentre of this non-linear world is the economy. And the closest we have to our own post-modern shape shifting politicians are George Osborne and Mario Draghi. They tell us proudly that the economy is growing but at the same time wages are going down. Osborne says he is cutting the deficit, but then it’s revealed that the deficit is actually going up. Draghi waxes lyrical about how low interest rates are a good thing for consumers and home owners, yet anguishes in the same breath that the inflation rate is TOO LOW! But the dark heart of this shape shifting world is Quantitative Easing.

Governments across Europe have insisted on taking billions out of the economy through their austerity programs. Yet at the very same time the UK is pumping billions of pounds INTO the economy through Quantitative Easing. The equivalent of £24,000 for every family in Britain. I’ve written before that the only way an economy can get itself out of a recession is to spend its way out. But make sure you spend the money on public infrastructure and projects that will benefit the economy on a long term basis, such as schools, nurseries, roads, bridges, hospitals, hell, even the military adds money to local economies where bases and troops are stationed.

Whilst the US and Britain has jumped on the QE band-wagon with great gusto, the European Central Bank have yet to decide on whether they want to continue to weathering the economic storm in the Eurozone without any major fundamental economic policy shifts, or if they want to introduce their version of QE. With the Germans so vehemently opposed to increasing public spending and their continued championing of austerity as a solution, it’s unlikely that the ECB will announce anything soon. In fact the continued decline of the EUR/USD F/X rate is a clear indication that QE will most likely not be  on the cards for the Eurozone any time soon.

But it gets even more confusing, because the Bank of England has admitted that those billions of pounds have not gone where they were supposed to. A vast amount of the money has actually found its way into the hands of the wealthiest 5% in Britain. It has been described as the biggest transfer of wealth to the rich in recent documented history.

It could be a huge scandal comparable to the greedy oligarchs in Russia. A ruthless elite, syphoning off billions of public money. But nobody seems to know. It sums up the strange mood of our time, where nothing really makes any coherent sense. We live with a constant vaudeville of contradictory stories that makes it impossible for any real opposition to emerge, because they can’t counter it with a coherent narrative of their own. And it means that we as individuals become ever more powerless. Unable to challenge anything because we live in a state of confusion and uncertainty, to which the response is “Oh Dear”.

But that’s what they want you to say.

Welcome to 2015!

New Year 2015 formed from sparking digits over black background

Never Trust A Politician – Bertie Ahern

Bertie Ahern advert

Yesterday’s Irish Independent reported that the former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, a man who swindled, cheated and lied to the nation and the various tribunals this country’s taxpayers hard earned money was wasted on, has reneged on his promise of paying back part of his pension.

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has been taking his full €150,000 a year pension since he left the Dail, after reversing his decision to give part of it back to the State.
The revelation comes as new figures released under Freedom of Information legislation show that only seven out of 116 former ministers gave up part of their pensions last year, despite the introduction of a simple system to allow them to do so.
None of the Fianna Fail ministers who presided over the economic crash gave up any part of their pensions.

Now let’s just think about that for a second and let it sink in while you’re drinking your cuppa…..and watch the video below to remind yourselves of the “cribbing and moaning” he referred to back in 2007.

Teflon Taoiseach Bertie is pocketing €12,500 a month, which is around €3,000 a WEEK…..IF he was working…..which he’s NOT.

Ask yourselves this. Do you think, if you lied, cheated, swindled and embezzled the funds of the company you work for, or own, and then got caught doing it, that you’d still be entitled to walk the streets as a free man and still receive entitlements for the rest of your days on this Earth?

No, I didn’t think so. Yet, this is what the Irish people have accepted. This is what the Irish government, even the government who was in opposition at the time, have accepted, and nobody seems inclined to do a damn thing about it.

Remember that the Irish people elect government officials. The officials are not there to dictate terms to the Irish citizenry, rather it’s the other way around….or at least, that was the concept of a democratically elected government when I went to school. Were the last 700 years all in vain?

Cotton On – Uzbekistan’s White Gold Make Regime Rich On Slave Labour

If I asked many of you to point Uzbekistan out on a map, you’d probably ask me “Where?” before having to search for it in an atlas. It doesn’t get many columns written about it in the Western press, especially when we’re so caught up in stories about hostages in Algeria and cheating cyclists who lied for a decade about their doping regimen.

But Uzbekistan is home to one of the last bastions of dictatorship kleptocracies in the world, an ex-Soviet republic whose dictator and his family hold key government positions, earning millions on the backs of their citizens whom they treat as nothing more than slaves whose sole purpose in life is to enrich the kleptomaniacal “first family” and keep them in a style of living they’ve grown accustomed to.

Islam Karimov, is the incumbent President of Uzbekistan, a position he has maintained since the fall of the Soviet empire through the usual methodology of regular human rights violations, election rigging and blocking of opposition parties (tactics practiced across the ex-Soviet states such as Russia, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Ukraine) along with some other choice methods such as the regular detention (without trial), torture and disappearance of ordinary Uzbeks, who often vanish into thin air, never to be heard of again. His favoured method of dispatching dissidents is to have them boiled alive. And his security police have shot dead hundreds of unarmed protesters in 2005. The lucky ones may return, their mutilated bodies are sometimes recovered when the secret police have no more use of them and the lucky families can find closure and bury their long missing loved ones.

But we here in the West also play a part in the continuance of this brutal regime. It might never cross your mind, but the next time you find yourself pushing a young mother out of the way so you can get a deal on the last cotton skirt on sale in H&M, think twice about where it’s come from! Because the Uzbek regimes largest source of wealth comes from what the Russians once called “White Gold”.

“White Gold”, coined by the Soviets, Cotton is Uzbekistan’s largest source of foreign currency, and Uzbekistan is one of the largest exporters of cotton worldwide. The cotton farms, cotton exporters and cotton harvesters are ALL state-owned. Which means 99% of the cash goes straight into the back pockets and Swiss bank accounts of the Karimov family, with the remaining 1% shared between the farms and the Uzbek people toiling in the fields picking the cotton.

And the people picking the cotton are ordinary folk, ranging from 7 and 8 year old children, all the way to well trained doctors, nurses, teachers and engineers. The crop is so huge that they force Uzbeks to pick the cotton giving strict daily quota’s, all so that the Karimov family can maximise the amount of cash they’ll get when they export it, just so Karimov’s wife or his camera shy daughter (NOT!), Gulnara Karimova, can splash out on a new villa in the Mediterranean coast, or attend Fashion Week in New York, or whatever else the well-heeled Oligarchy get up to these days with their stolen riches.

The next time you’re out shopping, look at the label or search online and find out WHERE your cotton came from. Do not simply shop with an absent mind. You, as a single individual CAN have an impact on geopolitical affairs and can help stamp out human rights violations, even thought you’re a world away! Don’t be a sheep and follow the herd, think for yourself and shop conscientiously and politically…..because your fellow human beings are depending on you!

Winter Roads In Ukraine

And you thought the roads near you were bad? Then spare a thought for the poor citizens of Gorlovka, in western Ukraine, who have probably the worst roads in the entire nation, and is a perennial sore-point amongst the local citizenry.

But things are especially bad during the winter, as can be seen in the video above. With corruption and embezzlement almost a de-facto additional source of income for the local government, monies set aside for road repairs and upgrades never makes its way to the local roads ministry, but rather finds its way into the back pockets and man-bags of the local council and the many deputies that have their hands in many pies.

I’m wondering if perhaps moving about town on a hovercraft is a more practical and comfortable way to negotiate the roads, which are festooned with craters the size of dinner plates….and they’re just the small ones!!

Drilling In Dalkey

I grew up and worked in this beautiful part of Ireland, so I was shocked when I came across this article by William Hederman. Given that the country is bankrupt and that it’s your average Joe on the street who is paying for the gambling risks of the political and banking elite in this country, it boggles my mind as to why the government sold out to the oil and gas supermajors so easily as they did and never thought for a second about ensuring some of the profits from drilling and exploration would remain in country.

We need every penny we can get now just to keep the economy from going bust. Instead of partly nationalising our oil industry (Norway, Brasil and Venezuela all benefit directly from doing exactly that), none of the monies will remain in Ireland, and our security of supply is non-existent, so the price at the pump remains at the mercy of the commodities market.

Not to mention the cost of an environmental disaster, which WILL happen, mark my words, irreparably damaging a unique and pristine piece of coastline. The “selling out” of Irish politicians demonstrates their utter contempt for the decent hardworking Irish men and women, and all for what? This kind of blind Garryowen/Hail mary style of politicking shows quite clearly how the current government is only focused on short-term popularity and polls rather than statesmen style nation building which our fore-fathers fought and died for.

I am ashamed that we, as a nation, elected this shower into office.

“We’re going to be rich” That was one response on Twitter last night to the news that Providence Resources has been granted a licence to drill for oil less than 10km from Dalkey Island.

While more and more people understand that it is private companies rather than Ireland that will get rich from oil and gas discoveries here, there is still a stunning level of ignorance around this topic. Much of this comes from politicians and journalists.

Providence is controlled by Tony O’Reilly Jnr whose family owned about half of our news media, so you might expect coverage of the Dalkey drill to be better informed.

When Providence applied for the foreshore licence last January, one newspaper quoted a Dún Laoghaire businessman saying the project “could be a good for morale and a boost for the business community”.

If Providence does find oil beside Dalkey, the only morale boost the business community will get is by admiring the rigs and tankers from the shore.

Last year Providence explained to me that they would load the oil into tankers at the rig and probably ship it directly to a refinery in Britain or Holland.

There would be no jobs or investment onshore. The workers on the rig will fly in from Scotland and elsewhere.

The fact that the oil is unlikely to be supplied to the Irish market nullifies the “security of supply” argument.

And of course, oil finds will not reduce the price of petrol here. So let’s desist with the Dallas analogies please, newsdesks.

The only guaranteed benefit to Ireland is the 25% corporation tax rate on profits. However – and this is where the industry’s lobbying of Ray Burke 25 years ago really paid off – when calculating profits from the sale of our oil, Providence can write off the costs of all exploration anywhere in Irish waters in the previous 25 years.

The likely result of such tax write-offs is illustrated by a private study conducted for Shell in 2003.

It projected that the Corrib project would pay just €340 million in tax over its lifetime, this from a field that is now valued at up to €13 billion. (At the time of the study, the field was worth considerably less, but I estimate that €340 represented around 7% of the revenue Shell would generate by selling Irish gas back to the Irish consumer).

Economically, our oil fields might as well be in the South Pacific, but environmentally, the Dalkey drill is frighteningly close to the shore – much closer than would be allowed in other European countries.

Providence’s own Oil Spill Contingency Plan shows that a spill could reach the shores of Dublin in one hour. This drilling is in shallow water, with fast currents, hundreds of marine and bird species, next to Dublin’s greatest amenity: Dublin Bay.

All being put at risk to show that Ireland is open for business, even though that business will hardly benefit us.

William Hederman is a freelance journalist. His website is IrishOilandGas