Naughten To See Here

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From top: Toaiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten; Anne Marie McNally

Last Wednesday morning (as every morning) before I’d even left the house, I checked the morning headlines on twitter. Upon doing so I came across a story that I surprisingly hadn’t heard on either of the 7:10 and 8:10am broadcasts of  Morning Ireland‘s ‘It Says in the Paperson RTÉ Radio One.

That story was by Mark Paul & Simon Carswell in the Irish Times and informed me that the Minister for Communications Denis Naughten, had (according to an affidavit filed by the ODCE to the High Court) taken a call from a PR executive acting on behalf of INM.

The executive in question works for Heneghan PR which is headed by Nigel Heneghan a long-term associate of Mr Leslie Buckley including in an adviser role.

One would have to assume (hope?) that when a Minister takes a call during which he imparts *anything* he does so clearly understanding exactly who he is speaking to. If we accept that is the case then it is clear the Minister was aware that he was basically speaking directly to Leslie Buckley, the Chairman of INM.

Why is that a problem you ask? OK, well ask yourself why is the Minister for Communications imparting sensitive information (personally or privately) to anybody associated with a media outlet, particularly one with such close ties to our home-grown media Svengali Denis O’Brien?

The ODCE’s affidavit reportedly shows that Mr O’Brien got an email from Mr Buckley advising him of the Minister’s information within hours of the PR exec’s conversation with the Minister.

A Communications Minister, Denis O’Brien and market-sensitive information in the one sentence. Now where have I heard that before? Hint…google Moriarty Tribunal. That alone makes the judgement error displayed by Minister Naughten, galling.

“I gave a personal opinion on what I thought was likely to happen” cried the Minister. Let’s put aside for a second the absolute ridiculousness of the premise that a Minister while in office on a public matter under his remit can give a personal opinion. Instead let’s draw the outline of what actually occurred.

We have a proposed media merger involving the biggest newspaper group in the country trying to get bigger. We have a newspaper group (INM) whose major shareholder  has, shall we say, ‘history’ with his close relationships to Communications Ministers.

We have a Minister with decision-making powers on that merger. We have a PR exec with the closest of ties to Mr O’Brien’s long-term associate Leslie Buckley. That PR exec is working for a firm acting (explicitly) on behalf of INM.

The head of that firm Nigel Heneghan not only has acted as adviser to Leslie Buckley among other roles but is also, significantly, a member of the Compliance Committee of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland-another body that will have a role to play in deciding on the proposed merger.

The connections are obvious. The story tells itself. Apparently it didn’t tell itself to the Minister though because he thought it was grand to tell the PR executive that the merger would be referred on to the BAI.

But that’s strange see, because that morning when Twitter informed me of the story and detailed the date of the Minister’s ‘chat’ with the PR Exec as November 2016, a bell rang in my head.

That bell was a series of PQs myself and a colleague had submitted on behalf of Catherine Murphy TD back in November and December 2016.

It took only a bit of searching to discover that despite the Minister telling Heneghan PR in November 2016 that he would be referring the matter to the BAI, on the floor of the Dáil on December 6 – almost a month later – he was telling us that he had not made any decision and would spend another few weeks undertaking a full process before making that decision.

A decision he now says was never going to be any other way. Seems that the statutory process was a box-ticking exercise at best.

Here’s a thing, maybe he just needs a phone box installed in his Dáil office for super-speedy Ministerial cape transformations when he’s deciding how to answer parliamentarians versus PR execs.

Because, you see, the reason the Minister couldn’t give the Dáil and elected parliamentarians the same information he gave a private PR exec almost a month previously is because he WAS wearing his superhero Ministerial cape.

And the reason that a PR exec acting for INM was telling the Chairman of INM (who in turn was telling Denis O’Brien according to e-mails in the ODCE’s affidavit) that the Minister *would* be referring the matter to the BAI is because, you see, the exec couldn’t see that on the other end of the phone the Minister was apparently NOT wearing his super-hero Ministerial cape and was only a private citizen, imparting sensitive information on a matter that, *if* he had been wearing his cape would, as the ODCE contends, potentially constitute insider information and market manipulation.

But ‘tis grand, cos he wasn’t wearing the cape, see?

Anne Marie McNally is Social Democrats Political Director and General Election candidate for Dublin Mid-West.

Top pic: Rollingnews

40 thoughts on “Naughten To See Here

  1. Joe Small

    It’s ‘It Says in the Papers’ not ‘What it says in the papers’. Common mistake.

    1. Joe Small

      Also, and a bit more usefully, any civil servants I know are absolutely scrupulous about answering PQs truthfully. Things can be omitted, dodged, evaded, etc. but to actually lie in a response to a parliamentary question is anathema. I presume the Minister read over the response to this PQ drafted for him and signed off on it.

  2. Owen C

    “the exec couldn’t see that on the other end of the phone the Minister was apparently NOT wearing his super-hero Ministerial cape and was only a private citizen, imparting sensitive information on a matter that, *if* he had been wearing his cape would, as the ODCE contends, potentially constitute insider information and market manipulation.”

    Its reasonably important to note that the insider information and market abuse did not occur when Naughten told PR guy. It did not occur when PR guy told Leslie Buckley either. It occurred, allegedly, when Buckley told O’Brien, as this constituted one shareholder being granted preferential treatment. So, again, Naughten’s decision to tell PR guy in the first place is not the issue here (although this was politically questionable and his comments to the Dail the next month are a bigger issue). It is almost entirely a Buckley-O’Brien issue.

      1. Owen C

        If Buckley had never told DOB then the ODCE would never have made a complaint. This is the basic fact underpinning the entire issue. Naughten initiated the entire thing, but it only became a ‘problem’ when Buckley decided to onward communicate it.

  3. bisted

    …funny Anne Marie doesn’t seem to realise how important it is for the Dail to survive a few more weeks so that everyone qualifys for pensions…she seems well versed in all the other forms of stroke politics…

    1. ahjayzis

      …she seems well versed in all the other forms of stroke politics…

      …from calling them out?

  4. Frilly Keane

    We have a Minister with decision-making powers on that merger.

    Not after he transferred it to the BAI to adjudicate.

    Anyway
    IMO
    Once it became a matter for the BAI the value of the acquisition might have been impacted.

    Like, if it’s trickier the vendors company might be impaired – by the additional costs of sale and interest charged on any borrowings; at the very least

    Now who does that favour?
    The buyer? Perhaps?

    On the other hand, by placing it into the public domain, it just might trigger interest from other potential purchasers. So who is better off now?

    Incidentally, if either of those two possibilities are a thing
    Then ye may have a bitta Insider Trading
    Because the transaction MAY have been manipulated by those with (Inside)information that has the capacity to enhance the outcome for one of the parties

    1. Owen C

      what transaction do you think DOB could have done to profit from this situation? Serious question.

      1. Frilly Keane

        Owen
        The sale price might have tanked on the referral to a third party causing complications
        Or
        Maybe the company needed an injection of cash requiring the sale in the first place, and this referral to the BAI created onorous delays that creditors might not tolerate and then you have a distress situation, maybe the appointment of a receiver – a crisis sale can usually promise a bargain price for a buyer
        Not saying that is going on in this particular acquisition of course

        Alternatively, being in the Public arena that a company is looking for a buyer might create a bitta competition, and trigger a bidding war

        Just saying

        1. Owen C

          Frilly

          you seem to have forgotten that the takeover WAS referred to the BAI. So DOB simply found out about this earlier than he should have, but I ask again how he could actually gain from it? So in the first two instances, there is no obvious way for him to benefit.

          In the third one, DOB doesn’t “benefit”. Simply, no one else was able to benefit, as they may have been able to do if the news had been made public. So its the lack of its release, rather than DOB finding out, which would be the problem there.

          Its important to note that for insider trading to have occurred, you generally have to show how someone benefits from it.

          1. Frilly Keane

            hang on
            I’m the one agreeing that tis a non-story
            and advised earlier – like last week sometime
            that no incidence of Insider Trading appears to have taken place

            I was just generalising on this string that if the referral was manipulated so as to tigger a movement on the sale price
            up or down
            one of the parties benefit

            then you might have sum’ting to have a scandal about

          2. Frilly Keane

            so have you seen the Affidavit Steve

            afaik it’s the now abandoned Newstalk purchase by INM that triggered the Protective Disclosure

            this other deal is more recent; and between different companies…..
            int’ it

          3. Frilly Keane

            different story Stevo

            ODCE are chasing INM

            this is Communicorp buying some rural newspaper group, and afaik all media acquisitions are automatically referred to the Consumer Protection Crowd, who found nathin’ wrong with the sale going through to Communicorp, but the Minister then sent it to the BAI crowd because it was a Media Group buying another and therefore exposing it to bigger ownership risks.

            just cause its the same lad now, remember he is a Shareholder in a load of Companies who just happen to be in the news a lot. But the Companies are all separate entities

          4. steve white

            its all in the one affidavit the, one argument for inspection

            “this is Communicorp buying some rural newspaper group,”

            no, its was INM that was trying to buy a rural paper group, Celtic Media.

          5. Frilly Keane

            Ah right. Ta for that

            The same crowd repping Communicorp in the intended sale of Newstalk to INM
            That set the value at 30 – 35 million
            Were players in this deal too
            I think

  5. rotide

    Why is it so important to know that Anne Marie gleaned this news piece from twitter as opposed to the Irish Times ?

      1. rotide

        Nice to know I’m no longer in the employ of Leo’s crack internet team but have been poached by the internet trolling team employed by Bertie

  6. rotide

    I’m not sure what the problem with the PQ is? It was a fairly good bet that it would be referred but surely all matters like this need to go through a consultation phase and therefore he didn’t want to give a definitive yes/no in answer to the question

    1. steve white

      yes the problem isn’t with the pq its that he said something different to somebody else, I dont’ quite get how CM feels misled in the Dail, she couldn’t expect any other answer.

  7. johnny

    as it should THAT private dinner/meeting in Davos has received some recent attention,but it was always all about the optics.POTUS this weekend tweeting that he has the power to fully pardon Jack Johnson is a not so subtle message to Cohen/Muller,as was Leo in Davos with DOB.Its a shock and awe,FU,I’m still the 500 pound gorrila move by DOB.

    how would a somewhat irrelevant x party member, read that well published meeting,he’s peaked this is it, one last shot.the exposure of a back channel from the Minister of Communications to DOB hasn’t received the scrutiny it deserves,how many other calls,chats,personal opinions were received/communicated.is the channel still active, was he acting on instruction explicit or implied.

    the referendum has probably saved this govt but Naughten is a lame duck,a dead minister walking.

      1. steve white

        by you not her, she hasn’t acknowledge her msitake and you telling me to calm down here your comment “Jesus Christ

        for once and for all
        note this

        Denis O’Brien is a MAJOR Shareholder or the Largest Shareholder
        not the MAJORITY Shareholder in INM”

        1. Frilly Keane

          ah calm down
          the problem is when Anne Marie Mc Nally gets corrected too staunchly by any of ye
          tis me that gets the blame and called a bully

  8. Mayor Quimby

    The psuedo-breezy conversational style is irritating, but the poor grammar is inexcusable “PQs myself and a colleague had submitted “

  9. michael walsh

    La meme chose.
    As ELO sang ”One Irish Politico all over the World”
    Moriarty Tribunal
    Michael Lowry “secured the winning” of the 1995 competition for the State’s second mobile phone licence for O’Brien’s Esat Digifone.

    Denis O’Brien made a number of payments to Lowry including one, for £147,000 in July 1996, when he was still a senior government minister.

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