Currently embroiled in the Red Flag/[REDACTED] alleged conspiracy controversy, Anne-Marie McNally writes:
When does money become power? When does power become a desire for control and when does that control become all consuming? Does it matter much if you become irrational and frenzied along the way as you pile up law suit on top of law suit all the while trying to frighten people into submission and acquiescence?
There has been much talk about the ‘chilling effect’ caused by certain individuals who take umbrage with any form of scrutiny of their business dealings but the true extent of that chilling effect is perhaps not thoroughly understood by those outside the political and media bubble.
The unfortunate reality is that when details of the latest lawsuit or legal threat make it into your daily read, you are getting a heavily sanitised version of what is actually going on and just how damaging it potentially is. The real context is never wholly laid out because that ‘chill’ hangs over the journalists trying to write the story.
The ‘chill’ in many of these cases is more than an implied threat of professional and personal litigation; it is far too often a very real legal threat on foot of an injunction being in place. As someone with an intimate knowledge of many of these stories I often read the coverage and find it unrecognisable to the reality of the situation.
If you know you’ve done nothing wrong and you have acted in good faith and with clean hands then it is incumbent on you to stand up and be counted in the face of threats and intimidation. Journalists are increasingly pushing the envelope in this regard but there is still a significant problem with the control wielded over newsrooms by cautious lawyers terrified of shaking the sleeping beast.
To call for good governance is not something to be shy about. To say that the State should uphold its duty to implement the recommendations of any tribunal – which has cost the state millions – is not out of order or in any way a conspiracy. It is simply the obvious response of anyone with an interest in public affairs and a desire to see a functioning society within which openness and accountability are valued and the dominant political and corporate culture is based on transparency rather than secrecy.
If somebody with money (or the appearance of money), power and a desire for control decides to get overly paranoid about things and paint everybody as having a vendetta or being somehow involved in a conspiracy then that is an unwarranted over reaction that cannot be allowed to influence the actions of those calling for good governance in Irish society.
If all of this seems in a vacuum to you then I apologise but I am not immune to the ‘chilling effect’ when it comes to committing words to paper but I’m hopeful that anybody who has been keeping a close eye on recent events in the High Court and the corresponding-albeit sanitised- media reports will understand my point.
However while I am forced to be careful about what I commit to paper and how I explain current events, I do not have to temper my actions as a citizen of this State calling on people to sit-up and take notice of things that deserve closer scrutiny within the public interest.
As a citizen with a keen interest in current affairs and a passion for a political system that people can trust, I will not be chilled in my actions to draw attention to questions that deserve answers. It is not about who is involved or not involved, it is not about targeting any individual; it is about the system and trying to force a change to the system.
If the same individual happens to be involved in a significant amount of the issues that deserve scrutiny then perhaps they should begin to question their own actions rather than the actions of those calling for the scrutiny.
Anne-Marie McNally is a political and media strategist working with Catherine Murphy TD and will be a candidate for the Social Democrats in the forthcoming General Election. Follow Anne-Marie on Twitter: @amomcnally
The High Court has heard Mr O’Brien received a memory stick from an anonymous source which contained damaging allegations against him, and, it is claimed, originated in Red Flag.
Mr O’Brien apparently has been concerned for some time at the number and regularity of hostile stories about him here and abroad.
He was concerned the drip-feed of stories was being orchestrated as they appeared excessive even for a person who is in the public eye because of business interests at home and abroad.
The court has heard the businessman feared there was a campaign being mounted against him funded by a unknown entity with the aim of damaging his reputation. In the last year there have been many stories about Digicel, Mr O’Brien’s purchase of a new jet, and the Moriarty Tribunal amongst others, mainly negative.
From top: Denis O’Brien; Karl Brophy and Gavin O’Reilly
Just because you’re paranoid.
Doesn’t mean they’re not compiling ‘dossiers’.
Denis O’Brien has been granted an order against Red Flag Consulting, its Chief Executive Officer Karl Brophy – who is a former director of corporate affairs and content development at Independent News and Media, its ChairmanGavin O’Reilly – the former Chief Executive Officer of Independent News and Media, Director Seamus Conboy, Account Manager Brid Murphy, and Account Executive Kevin Hiney.
The order prevents them from interfering with a list of more than 80 media articles and several other documents, which Mr O’Brien says are contained in a dossier about him.
The court has also granted an order preventing any interference with any computer equipment, which could identify who commissioned, contributed to or received the dossier.
Mr O’Brien’s lawyers went to the High Court yesterday seeking orders to allow them to search Red Flag’s premises.
But the Court ordered them to notify Red Flag and the other defendants and come back to court today.
…Lawyers for Red Flag said the action would be fully defended. Senior Counsel Michael Collins said Mr O’Brien seemed to be concerned about what he alleged was a campaign against him in the media.
He had commissioned a private investigator and had received a dossier anonymously on a USB stick last Friday.
He then engaged IT consultants to prepare a report. Mr Collins said they would need to engage their own consultants, possibly consult gardaí and other people.
…The dossier contains two PDF documents entitled “Denis O’Brien IPO Experience” and “The Moriarty Tribunal Explainer”, as well as more than 80 articles from national and international media and transcripts of Dáil debates.
Mr Justice Colm MacEochaidh adjourned the case until 2pm on Friday.
Denis O’Brien appeared on CNBC earlier this afternoon to discuss the cancellation of the public share offering by his telecom company Digicel.
It’s all good.
Denis O’Brien: “Our board made the right decision last night. We were very, very happy with the decision, woke up this morning, we’re very happy that we pulled the IPO. And we’ll come back to the market in time when the market conditions are right for our business.”
CNBC: “Denis, before we go on and discuss the market conditions, to try and keep everybody on board, in simple terms what do you do? What does your business do?”
O’Brien: “We’ve a mobile phone and fixe lined business and cable TV and also a digital business in the Caribbean and also Central America and the Pacific islands as well. We operate in 31 countries. We’ve about $2.8billion of revenue and we make approximately $1.2billion of EBITDA.”
CNBC: “So, just talk me through the process. That A) an IPO, the board says let’s IPO, you employ bankers and presumably you start a roadshow…”
CNBC: “…and then you. Just give us some colour, if you would, on what went on during that process.”
O’Brien: “Well we started the process six months ago, led by our chief executive Colm Delves, we’d a small team, then the team widened. And you know we hit the road about two and a half weeks. It was quite volatile, particularly in the emerging markets and, of course, the discount people are looking for in IPO are very, is very high, it’s widened. And, you know, we’re not backed by private equity. It’s all owned by myself and my colleagues. So we didn’t need to do an IPO at any time so. It was opportunistic from our point of view and we’ll come back, we don’t need any funding at the moment. It’s a great feeling, not to need any funding.”
CNBC: “Since you are a private company, can you give us an idea of the magnitude of the figures. What you were after? What they told you, you’d probably price at?”
O’Brien: “Yeah well there are comparables. Obviously we’re comped against a basket of other companies but they decline by half a turn of EBIDTA during the roadshow, so we didn’t hit our price target, so we decided well, if we don’t hit our price target, we’re not going to sell our shares. Why would you sell your front garden if when you know it’s worth a lot of money? And why would you sell it at a discount?”
CNBC 2: “I also understand you’ve been watching emerging markets, is that one of the reasons you’re concerned about this current environment?”
O’Brien: “Well you know emerging markets is a bit choppy at the moment. A lot of outflow from fund managers, a lot of caution, a little bit of jittery, you know, although this morning it’s a bit better but, over the last few weeks, you know, we’ve seen a lot of outflows and people are just a little bit concerned about the future. You know, in our circumstances, when you don’t have to do an IPO, and you’re not hitting your price target, you just defer or move it out a year.”
CNBC: “So that’s what I was going to ask you: when do you think the time will be right? What did the bankers say to you about when next the markets won’t be volatile and, presumably, will be in a rising environment?”
O’Brien: “Well, I mean it’s very difficult to get bankers to tell you, you know, what the future holds cause nobody really knows. But I think the markets will settle over the next three to six months with oil recovering. So, you know, I actually think that the market will be fine then and there won’t be as big a discount and, you know, people will be hitting their IPO ranges.”
CNBC 3: “You are losing money. I mean you have adequate access to capital, for what you need from other capital markets, including the debt markets?”
O’Brien: “Well you know, we operate in free cash-flow of $840million on $1.2billion of EBITDA so, you know, we’ve no maturities until 2021 of any consequence. So we’ve funded our balance sheet of very cheap prices in the bond market in the last 12 months so we’re very comfortable, we’re generating a huge amount of cash. We can do our MNA strategy and really develop our business so, you know, alone, we’ve spent $1.5billion on CAPEX, building fiber to the home, fibre business networks across all our markets.”
Digicel’s balance sheet is very weak, Francis Gaskins, president of research firm IPO Desktop, said. “It’s a big company that has been losing money since it started,” Gaskins said. “They’ve been growing subscribers at 2 percent a year.”
Digicel reported a loss of $157.6 million on revenue of $2.79 billion for the year ended March 31, compared with a profit of $43.5 million on revenue of $2.75 billion a year earlier.
“”Their revenue is flat, they are losing money, the company is not growing – it would not be seen as the most attractive of investments,” said Jay Ritter, professor of finance, University of Florida.
Gavin Sherian and Tom Lyons, in yesterday’s Sunday Business Post, reported:
“A company [Another 9 or A9 Business Recovery Services] backed by billionaire Denis O’Brien is being paid substantial sums of money to protect Irish Water’s website from “severe” cyber attacks, with six serious incidents identified in just five months alone.”
“…The company is chaired by Leslie Buckley, an O’Brien associate, who is the chairman of Independent News & Media. Shareholders in the company are Baycliffe, an Isle of Man investment company used by O’Brien, and Steve O’Brien, a businessman.”
“The full cost to the State of services provided by the company – including hourly rates charged by security engineers – has been redacted by Irish Water citing confidentiality reasons. The documents state the “yearly charge” for “hosting and security charges” is €1.2 million to Ervia over five years. It does not appear to include other potential charges.”
“…The form of cyber attack that Another 9 is defending Irish Water against is called a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack…”
“…Another 9 lists O’Brien’s company Digicel as well as AIB, Volkswagen and Pioneer Investments as among its clients. The company’s website describes O’Brien as “shareholder” and as “one of Ireland’s leading entrepreneurs”.”
As you are aware, we have a housing crisis, caused by FG-Labour. Today they were showing off some “modular home“, basically prefabs [in Dublin yesterday]. These will solve the crisis, or so they tell us. These units cost around €100,000 each.
Well, guess who makes them? Denis O’Brien does. [Among the] companies building them is Roankabin, a division of SiteServ (the company installing water meters)….