“I Didn’t Wilfully Or Any Other Way Mislead The Dáil”

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Minister for Communications Denis Naughten

This afternoon.

Minister for Communications Denis Naughten gave a statement to the Dáil following a report in The Irish Times this morning.

The report was based an affidavit to the High Court by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) – in which the ODCE has requested that two inspectors investigate certain matters an Independent News and Media.

It stated that, on November 11, 2016, Mr Naughten informed Eoghan Ó Neachtáin, of Heneghan PR which represented INM, that he planned to refer INM’s proposed takeover of Celtic Media Group to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI).

[Mr Ó Neachtáin was previously the press secretary to three Governments and three Taoisigh.]

This decision wasn’t made public until January 2017.

On December 6, 2017, Mr Naughten was asked questions about the proposed merger by both Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy and Sinn Féin’s Brian Stanley.

In response to Mr Stanley asking him about the proposed takeover and raising concerns about media plurality, Mr Naughten said:

I have not made my views known and I am not going to. I have a decision to make and I will make it in line with the legislation.”

To Ms Murphy, Mr Naughten told her he had not yet decided if he was going to refer the proposed takeover to the BAI.

Further to this…

Mr Naughten has confirmed a phone call did take place between him and Mr Ó Neachtáin on either November 10 or 11, 2016.

He said it was a mobile phone call and he took no note of it.

In addition, he didn’t tell his officials.

The Dáil has already heard that Mr Ó Neachtáin didn’t register the approach with the Lobbying Register.

But Mr Naughten has insisted he did not impart any new information to Mr Ó Neachtáin and that he told him he would be following the advice of his officials which he hadn’t received yet.

The minister also said that, during this call, Mr Ó Neachtáin informed the minister that the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission was after approving the proposed takeover by INM.

This decision by the CCPC was reported on November 11, 2016.

Mr Naughten has also told the Dáil he met former INM chairman Leslie Buckley at a DataSec summit in Dublin’s RDS organised by INMat which Mr Naughten spoke – on May 3, 2017, where they shared “small talk”.

He said he can’t recall fully but he doesn’t believe Mr Buckley raised the matter of the proposed takeover.

It emerged in June 2017 that the acquisition would not be taking place.

Mr Naughten has also told the Dáil: “I didn’t wilfully, or any other way, mislead the Dáil.”

Mr Naughten said:

“I wish to confirm that I received a phonecall from Eoghan Ó Neachtáin, former press secretary to a number of governments, on either the 10th or the 11th of November, 2016, informing me that the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission was after approving the Independent News and Media acquisition of the Celtic News and Media Group.

This was in advance of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission communicating the decision to me.

“It was common knowledge that this was a very significant acquisition with a significant geographical impact. I expressed a purely personal view that the likely course of action would be a referral to a phase two assessment in accordance with the guidelines in light of the diversity and media plurality assessments required and in light of the scale of the proposed acquisition, its geographical concentration and the extent of the ownership of regional media by Independent News and Media at that point.

“According to the advice from the Office of the Attorney General, in the context of there being a decision by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, the legislation about such referrals to the BAI is clear, that referral is an option to me as minister when there is a planned media merger.

” If so, there is nothing wrong or inappropriate with me, as minister, saying to anyone, to the public, anyone or to the public if the plan for a media merger continues, I would take advice on sending it to the BAI.

“This is not inside information, but simply a reflection of the legislation itself.

“I had no inside information to give.

“It may have been preferable if the conversation had not taken place but it was by no means expressing a definitive view nor could I do so at that time.

“Nor did I state that the view expressed was a confidential one as the article (in The Irish Times) seems to assert. In fact, I clearly stated that I had made all pervious decisions, solely based on the advice provided to me by my officials and I reiterated that I would adhere to that approach in this case as well.

“There seems to be a misunderstanding about the nature of the media merger process. This is not a secret process.”

Earlier:  ‘I Take Exception, Yet Again, To Being Misled In This Dáil’

UPDATE:

28 thoughts on ““I Didn’t Wilfully Or Any Other Way Mislead The Dáil”

  1. b

    if he gave information to an agent of the company that’s allowed. The agent is an insider and so is the chairman – they are by definition expected and allowed to have inside information. Not all inside information is toxic anyway if not material

    the disclosure of that information to DOB and whether it was material enough that warrants selective disclosure is the real issue here

    1. Owen C

      Absolutely correct and completely misunderstood by much of the Irish media and political commentariat yesterday. Issue is not the Naughten-PR communication (albeit questionable decision from Naughten from a purely political perspective), but the Buckley-DOB communication. And, as also misunderstood, not from an “insider trading” perspective (DOB would need to have actually sold shares to make this a problem, which as a 30% shareholder he was not going to do), just simply from a market abuse perspective and unfair treatment (access to info) of one shareholder vs all other shareholders.

      Additional problem with common Irish commentariat narative that “FG always looks after DOB” – Naughten decided to refer the INM-Celtic Media takeover to the BAI despite the CCPC approving it! Buckley said it was “unprecedented” that a Minister would do this and that’s why he wanted to inform DOB as to what was going on. Naughten was definitely not looking after DOBs interests in this situation!

      1. johnny

        so based on your “logic” selling shares in INM is the only way benefit from this type insider information and make it a problem, there’s like literally no other way or companies affected, thanks for that !
        as for rest off it, the clandestine nature of it all reeks.

        1. Frilly Keane

          No
          If the information he was privy to ahead of anyone else, ie other competitors or the market in general, allowed him advance notice to either profit or reduce losses, and if he exercised that advantage

          Then Insider Trading has occurred

          BTW
          Information extracted from hacking now ….
          That allowed competitive advantage
          Of any sort

          Is very bold stuff

          1. b

            when the transaction was first announced INM didn’t announce the financial details the the market – this makes it extremely difficult to subsequently prove that there was information that was material and market abuse happened

            the unregistered lobbying is a problem here – i don’t buy the PR person was just asking, he may have been trying to influence decision (not that it worked anyway). Also Buckley passing information to a favoured shareholder is bad corporate governance regardless it it was legal

          2. johnny

            starting point is looking at ANY securities traded by the person or persons ‘tipped’,not just shares in INM,duh!
            there is also that affidavit to the High Court by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) alleging market abuse……
            the sooner the full affidavit is in the public domain the better.

          3. Owen C

            1. The market abuse alleged by the ODCE relates to one shareholder receiving information or preferential treatment by management. It does not relate to insider trading (in this instance, insider trading would be a symptom rather than a cause). You’ll note that the term insider trading does not seem to come up anywhere in the ODCE allegations. There’s a reason for this – it doesn’t appear to have happened.

            2. Politicians, company executives, PR/lobbyists, solicitors, accountants etc are often in receipt of “confidential, market sensitive” information simply by the nature of their jobs. The key issue is what they do with it.

            Naughten telling an INM agent (their PR/lobbyist) about an ongoing issue related to INM is in and of itself not a problem, provided no one acts on it, as INM are the primary party to the outcome (although Celtic Media may have a valid complaint if they were not made aware of the situation).

            Banks would be having ongoing discussions with their the ECB or the Central Bank or the government on certain issues all the time (think NPLs, mortgage pricing, SME lending etc) that is clearly market sensitive and non-public in nature. Indeed, as an example, the Irish banks received their stress test results in 2016 on the Thursday night, and the ECB only released the actual results on the Friday night. The Naughten-PR guy element of this is entirely political and more about what he subsequently said (or didn’t say) in the Dail about the ongoing situation. But its a red herring from the perspective of the market abuse allegation by ODCE. That entirely a Buckley-DOB issue.

          4. Johnny

            1- why is the board off INM appealing ?
            2-its not in dispute what was done with it !
            3-non sequitur

            ps-you brought up insider trading:)

          5. Owen C

            1. The board is appealing because if one of their officers is found to have done something wrong, the company itself could be liable
            2. Whats in dispute is where the market abuse took place. Many people keep saying Naughten was wrong to divulge “inside information”, but this misunderstands what counts as insider info and who counts as an insider
            3. Its very relevant for how other listed companies are constantly in discussions over confidential or market sensitive information with regulators

            ps – The notion of insider trading in this instance has been well discussed, implicitly and explicitly, on twitter for the last 24 hours

          6. Johnny

            1-you seem a bit all over the place,there’s emails confirming something went “wrong” ?

            seriously you think that’s why the board is appealing-to avoid/delay any possible liability for the X chairman’s alleged actions with the largest shareholder ?

            2-again with that nonsense,it was via mobile and only reason we know about it is he was caught !
            no records kept,no consultation with his dept or advisors ?

            3-give one example in UK/Irl of market abuse charges getting to court ?

            PS-see above,they will look at ALL securities traded,not just INM !

          7. Owen C

            Johnny

            1. You seem unwilling or unable to read my previous comments on this above:

            “Issue is not the Naughten-PR communication (albeit questionable decision from Naughten from a purely political perspective), but the Buckley-DOB communication”

            So where am I denying that something wrong happened? Whether it is legally wrong and whether INM is liable for that, we will have to wait for a court to decide. I know your opinions are important, but they will not ultimately decide what happens here.

            2. The Naughten-PR guy discussion is not what the ODCE is complaining about, ie the allegation of market abuse. The Naughten part is political, the Buckley part is legal. You seem unable to look at this as two separate issues. This saddens me.

            3. Market Abuse regulations have evolved significantly over the last decade, from previously simplistic insider trading rules or similar. Flavin/DCC/Ffyes is the most well known court case here. There’s loads of small level cases in the UK every year.

            Ps – what other securities would be relevant to this situation?

          8. Johnny

            …so not one comparable case,time wasted commenting that you will never get back…
            …to be continued-a guess/hunch board drops the appeal!

  2. david

    This guy would sell his grandmother if he could dig her up
    As for delivering rapid broadband to rural locations ?well a disaster
    Meanwhile the UK solved their problem regarding the 5%of homes in rural location a few months ago simply by installing technology on village churches so now in the flick of a pen rural broadband rapid and available to all
    Meanwhile paddy spends near a billion in with eir which then announces 750 job losses and claims it with a reduced staff do the job

        1. jusayinlike

          So inconvenient being a fger eh b, making a fudge of even simple tasks..

          bunch of losers..

    1. Cian

      yes – but no.
      Ireland and the UK are very different in terms of housing distribution.

      UK is more urban than Ireland. In the rural areas Ireland has a lot of one-off houses dotted across the landscape whereas in the UK houses tend to be clumped in villages.

  3. Johnny

    bit odd that IT broke this story,why did INM sit on it ?
    after all they have the affidavit!

    1. Frilly Keane

      And probably the ones leaking it

      An’ maybe looking for a bitta contempt a’ court action
      And guess who that’s suits

      1. Johnny

        Euronext who just completed its acquisition of the Irish Stock Exchange,will be under some pressure to investigate any unusual trading in INM shares.

        Naughten’s around long enough to know that this situation required proceeding with extreme caution,which by any definition doesn’t include taking calls on your cell phone from flacks for INM!

        Aren’t the INM hacks called the ‘Brave Ones’ these days…..

    1. Lilly

      I dunno Anne, do you think they start to feel grubby? And end up looking like Bertie Ahern or Angela Kerins.

  4. Truth in the News

    Why was not a formal letter sent to the Dept of Communication’s why was contact made with the Minister
    Given the media dominance of the particular investor, what else would the response be, and once the
    Minister was contacted, he should have a made note of it, and got the Officials in the Dept to respond
    All this was a clever way of testing the water….

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