Then Fine Gael Communications Minister Michael Lowry and Denis O’Brien in 1997
Elaine Loughlin, in The Irish Examiner, reports:
The National Union of Journalists have written to the Committee on Communications, Climate Change and Environment asking that Mr Lowry “recuse himself” from all discussions around the acquisition of the Celtic Media Group of local newspapers by Independent News and Media.
The committee met in private yesterday to discuss this letter, but they were told that they do not have the power to ask him to step aside.
…Committee members received legal advice during the meeting and were told that Mr Lowry cannot be asked to excuse himself.
It is understood TDs and senators were told while Mr Lowry could recuse himself if he believed there was a conflict of interest, members do not have the power to demand or even ask he step aside during the hearings.
But please think of those suffering at this time in the Third World.
Digicel’s €6.2 billion debt is at “unsustainably high levels” at 6.2 times earnings at the group, Michael Chakardjian, an analyst with US credit research firm CreditSights, said at a conference in London this week.
He also said that the company’s cost-cutting plan was ambitious and opaque and that the company faces “near-term refinancing risks”.
Digicel said on Friday that it “fundamentally disagrees with the conclusions”, and has a positive outlook.
…The Bermuda-based company, which operates in 32 markets in the Caribbean and South Pacific regions, is in the middle of a third year of earnings decline, with its latest quarterly figures, to the end of September, hit particularly by currency weakness in several of its markets against the dollar…
Red Flag offices on Ely Place, Dublin 2; Denis O’Brien; Karl Brophy, of Red Flag
You may recall Denis O’Brien’s action against communications company Red Flag Consultancy – claiming the group was involved in a conspiracy against him.
Further to this…
The Irish Times reports:
Denis O’Brien has failed to get court orders directing Red Flag Consulting to disclose documents that would reveal the identity of its client for a dossier of material about the businessman.
…The dossier, which Mr O’Brien said arrived at his Dublin offices in October 2015 on a USB memory stick contained in an unstamped envelope, includes some 80 media reports and other material, including a document entitled: “Who is Denis O’Brien?” and “The Moriarty Tribunal Explainer”.
…However, Mr O’Brien was entitled to documents relating to communications between Red Flag and its client concerning the dossier with the client’s name redacted, the judge ruled. Such documents were likely to reveal the nature of the relationship between Red Flag and its client and were relevant because Red Flag’s motivation in preparing the dossier was an issue.
Fine Gael TD Noel Rock wrote a column about Independent News and Media (INM) and its pension cuts – some of which will amount to 70% – describing the company’s moves as “appalling”.
He also referred to the pockets of INM’s biggest shareholder, Denis O’Brien, without naming him.
Mr Rock wrote:
“… But what shifts it from appalling to repugnant is that INM is a massively profitable company, in large part because workers agreed to write down the value of their pensions by 40 per cent in 2013.
“INM announced some months ago that it made a profit of €37 million in 2015. It will have a Euromillions Jackpot figure of €87 million in pure cash burning a hole in its corporate pockets by the end of this month.
“…Sadly, and wrongly, this is not illegal in Ireland. It is in Britain.
“…While Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar is investigating the possibility of intervening in the forthcoming High Court hearing on the capital restructuring of INM and asking the court to consider appropriateness of capital restructuring when it’s closing this pension scheme, it’s certainly worth asking if a “wait and see” approach is good enough, or whether we need to directly intervene.
“…[INM shareholders] also benefited when banks, including the state-owned AIB as well as Bank of Ireland, wrote off almost €140 million in INM debt. These are banks that we bailed out.
“So every single person in Ireland was involved in the indirect bailout of INM. We wrote off their debts, and they crushed their own pensioners to the tune of two-fifths of their entitlement.
“We didn’t take that hit as a society so that, three years later, the company would come back, throw its pensioners under a proverbial bus, and suck all the money out of the company for the shareholders we, effectively, did a deal with.
“Nor did we do it so that the company could use the cash it is taking off pensioners and transfer it directly into the pockets of its largest shareholder, by buying Newstalk or any other asset he happens to have.”
From top: Denis O’Brien leaving the High Court after giving evidence last week; an excerpt of Mr O’Brien’s witness statement given to the court
Mary Carolan, in The Irish Times, reports:
Businessman Denis O’Brien’s action over statements made by two TDs in the Dáil about his banking affairs has concluded at the High Court with judgment reserved.
Ms Justice Una Ní Raifeartaigh reserved judgment until the new year and said she would not finalise her decision until the High Court rules on the separate case of former Rehab chief executive Angela Kerins. That case raises some similar issues and judgment was reserved on it last October.
Denis O Brien arrivies to appear as the only witness in his action concerning certain statements made about his business dealings in Dáil Eireann by TDs Catherine Murphy of the Social Democrats and Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty. The businessman alleges that those statements breached his constitutional right to privacy.
More as we get it.
Denis O’Brien leaves the court after giving evidence.
Denis O’Brien explained why he fundamentally believes the confidentiality of banking details is as important as medical records and that it’s important for the country, as a whole, and for the conduct of business.
He said he sought the court order against RTE in the interest of wider privacy.
He said, in parallel to his solicitors being in court, just two miles away their work was being undone. So, he argued, nobody has any protection of the courts if TDs are to act like this.
Mr O’Brien also said the international perspective in relation to this matter is bad for Ireland. People will take a view that Ireland is risky to invest in. It’s a considerable weakness, he said.
Mr O’Brien said he and his family were threatened and feared for their lives. However, he said he’s not speculating what promoted the threats.
Mr O’Brien said he felt having his personal banking details spoken about in the Oireachtas was wrong and the remedy for this would be to remove the ability to name any name on the floor of the Dáil.
He said personal banking files, belong to him, were stolen and given to a TD and that TD should have gone to the gardaí, instead of reading it out in Dáil.
Mr O’Brien stressed to the court that he was taking the action to ensure this would never happen again – to any citizen.
Mr O’Brien also admitted to deliberately trying to prevent media from reporting Dáil business.
Meanwhile, from Mr O’Brien’s testimony, during which he was questioned by Michael Collins SC, for the Dáil Committee for Procedure and Privileges…
Michael Collins: “You used the word reprove in your legal submission to the court.”
Denis O’Brien: “Censure is my preferred word.”
MichaelCollins: “So, you want court to issue it to TDs.”
Michael Collins:“You want the court to express its disapproval of the TDs.”
Michael Collins: “You complain re: motivation of TDs, you say they were trying to subvert court, you want court to investigate their motivation and reach a conclusion on it.”
Michael Collins: “You complain no branch of government has issued adverse commentary re: TDs’ utterances.”
O’Brien: “That’s correct.”
Michael Collins: “You therefore want judiciary branch of government to deplore what occurred and make adverse comment; finding re: statements made by TDs.”
In addition, Mr O’Brien also answered questions from the Attorney General’s Senior Counsel Maurice Collins…
Mauirce Collins: “Mr Cush [Denis O’Brien’s senior counsel] said, without any order, this complaint could still be brought by you, do you understand the effect of that would be to greatly restrict Dáil speech and isn’t that the intent of this action?”
O’Brien: “Yes. You’re trying to make victims out of two TDs yet I’m the one being wronged here. My details were stolen and given to them and they chose to release it.”
Maurice Collins: “I’m not trying to make any victims. I’m saying you want punitive actions against 2 TDs.”
O’Brien: “If unsuccessful this would never happen again.”
Maurice Collins: “You would say you were vindicated and TDs have been found wrong.”
Maurice Collins: “Going froward TDs wouldn’t have privilege.”
O’Brien: “There would be a respect of privacy.”
Maurice Collins: “You want both censure of Catherine Murphy and Pearse Doherty and you want censorship of all TDs going forward.”
O’Brien: “The same situation faced by me would not be faced by others in future.”
Mauirce Collins: “Seems you wanted to sue them personally but if determination in this case clears path, you might.”
O’Brien: “It’s unlikely, though not ruled out.”
Maurice Collins: “Do you accept it was accepted by your own counsel and said by court itself on June 2nd that order never intended to extend to Dáil therefore you accept no breach.”
O’Brien: “They did.”
Mauirce Collins: “But your counsel differs from you on that matter.”
O’Brien: “If you say that then it must be true.”
Laughing in court
Maurice Collins: “Your case is founded on assertions and utterances made recklessly and in bad faith and you want court to endorse that?”
Maurice Collins: “TDs are not here as individuals yet you’re making personal allegations. It’s not abstract.”
O’Brien: “Yes they acted recklessly and maliciously.”
Maurice Collins: “Yet they’re not here to defend themselves.”
More as we get it.
This afternoon .
People Before Profit protestors outside the Four Courts urging Mr O’Brien to move back home from his tax exile in Malta.
From top: Celtic Media logo; Denis O’Brien, Catherine Murphy
In the dâil yesterday, Social Democrat founder Catherine Murphy challenged Taoiseach Enda Kenny on the sale of Celtic media Group to Denis O’Brien-controlled INM.
Celtic Media owns seven regional titles, including the Anglo Celt, the Meath Chronicle, the Offaly Independent, the Westmeath Examiner, the Westmeath Independent and Forum, a bi-weekly paper for south Meath.
Catherine Murphy: “Last week, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission approved the acquisition of the Celtic Media group by Independent News and Media, INM. It is now up to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, and presumably the Cabinet, to accept or reject this acquisition. Earlier this year, a report authored by Dr. Roddy Flynn of Dublin City University identified the concentration of media ownership in Ireland as a “high risk”. That was echoed earlier this year in a European Commission report, which found that the position in Ireland was the subject of the highest level of concern and identified a lack of legal barriers as an issue. Nessa Childers MEP held a conference earlier this year at which Dr. Flynn’s findings were reported. More recently, Lynn Boylan, MEP, commissioned an EU Parliament report, the findings of which expressed similarly grave concerns regarding the media landscape in Ireland.
It is difficult to understand how an agency involved in consumer protection could approve the proposed acquisition, particularly in a sector that has the potential to undermine our democracy.
INM publishes the Irish Independent, the Sunday Independent, the Evening Herald, the Sunday World and the Belfast Telegraph. It has a 50% stake in the Irish Daily Star and controls 13 paid-for regional weekly newspapers. If INM’s acquisition of the Celtic Media group goes ahead, it will control 28 regional titles across the country in addition to the national titles I have mentioned.
The radio sector is also relevant in this context. Communicorp, which is owned by the same majority shareholder as INM, controls Newstalk, Today FM, 98FM, Spin 103 and Spin South West, or approximately 20% of the entire radio market. Although I appreciate that print and broadcast media are different, it is essential for the cross-ownership of INM and Communicorp to be considered in tandem.
As the Taoiseach knows, the Competition Act 2002 does not allow competition restrictions on media ownership to be retrospective. This raises further questions about the permitting of the proposed acquisition. If there is already a problem with the over-concentration of media ownership, why would the Government make that situation worse?
That is the obvious question. While media concentration is an issue in its own right, the ownership of such a large proportion of our print broadcasting and digital media by someone who has consistently used the courts to create a chilling effect on journalists and other media outlets has to be questioned in the most serious terms.
The person to whom I refer, Denis O’Brien, was the subject of adverse findings in the Moriarty tribunal, as the Taoiseach is aware. This media acquisition is clearly against the public interest. It is essential that vested interests are not once again placed ahead of the public interest. Will the Taoiseach oppose this acquisition?
Given the changing nature of media, does he support the National Union of Journalists’ call to initiate a public commission on the future of the media to examine ownership, editorial control, employment standards including pension rights and measures to protect editorial independence?
Does he believe State supports may be appropriate to ensure there is diversity of media ownership across all platforms?
Enda Kenny: “No, I do not support the call mentioned by Deputy Catherine Murphy. This report was commissioned by Lynn Boylan MEP and was based on a legal opinion from two firms based in London and Belfast, both of which primarily work in the field of human rights. The report seems to have been prompted in part by the 2015 report of the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom, a centre based in Florida and funded by the European Commission, which was published in March 2016.
I think everybody can agree that a free and pluralistic media is an essential component of a modern democracy. The report mentioned by the Deputy is being examined by the Minster for Communications, Climate Action and Environment on the basis of his responsibility for media plurality.
I understand he is to answer questions in the House tomorrow on that. In addition to operating the media mergers regime provided for in the revised Competition (Amendment) Act 2012, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment engages with the European Commission and the Council of Europe on all issues relating to media freedom and plurality.
It is also important to say that many of the issues and conclusions raised in the report were debated in the House during the passage of the Competition and Consumer Protection Act 2014, which revised the Competition Act 2002. As the Deputy is aware, the 2014 Act gives the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the power to block any media merger that is deemed likely to be contrary to the public interest in maintaining the plurality of media in the State.
Therefore, I do not see any reason for the setting up of a commission of inquiry into the matter. The Act did not give the Minister the power to act retrospectively or to assess a media business in the absence of a proposed merger, as to do so would be to interfere with the property rights enshrined in Article 43 of Bunreacht na hÉireann, which would raise a myriad of legal complexities.
Simply stating that it is legally possible to do so does not address any of the legal complexities involved and does not recognise the effect such a move could have on freedom of expression and investment in the sector.
In fact, the report itself recognises this is an extremely difficult area that would raise issues regarding property rights, market effects, procedural fairness and freedom of expression considerations.”
Murphy: “I am not entirely sure what to make of that response. The Constitution certainly does include a section on property rights but all rights have to be balanced and, indeed, the section in the Constitution is balanced by a second section which deals with the common good.
Essentially, the point I am making is that there is no reason for the Government to make matters worse where there is already a demonstrated difficulty with the excessive concentration of media ownership.
Why would it do that when retrospection is not permitted, according to the Taoiseach, although I believe that is open to challenge in the courts?
To take the position in rural areas, which I do not need to describe to the Taoiseach, the more concentrated media ownership gets in rural areas, the less informed people are going to become. What is proposed is that the current CEO of Celtic Media would become the managing director of all 28 INM regional titles.
This would mean the possibility of cross-selling of advertising and the possibility that people in rural areas will not be able to go into Eason’s, for example, and pick up alternative newspapers. The retrospection aspect is one that must be taken very seriously. What is the Taoiseach’s view of this acquisition of the Celtic Media group?”
Kenny: “I misinformed the Deputy in that the Minister is not here tomorrow due to the climate business in Marrakesh and the Minister for Education and Skills has a swap arrangement for tomorrow. Obviously, the most important of the considerations involved is the potential impact on media freedom if a Minister effectively has the power to break up a media business at any time. That could also have a severe impact on investment in the sector.”
Murphy: “What is the Taoiseach’s view?”
Kenny:“The issue was well debated here during the proceedings relating to the Act of 2014. The assertion that there are no representatives being appointed to the MSI-MED committee and none of the independent experts on that body are based in Ireland is misleading.
That committee is a sub-committee of the larger steering committee on media and information society and there is a principal officer of the Department who sits on it as well. Given that all these matters were discussed already in the context of the review of the Act, the Minister does not see what a commission of investigation or inquiry into this would be based on.”
Róisín Shortall: Does the Taoiseach agree with the merger now?
Kenny: “He does not have the power to act retrospectively on this, as I have pointed out.”
Report on the Concentration of Media Ownership; Media ownership report launch, from left: Barrister Caoilfhionn Gallagher, Jonathan Price, KRW Law, Gavin Booth, Sinn Féin MEP Lynn Boylan, in Cliff Townhouse in Dublin; Denis O’Brien
Further to the Report on the Concentration of Media Ownership in Ireland, commissioned by Lynn Boylan, Sinn Féin MEP on behalf on the European United Left/Northern Green Left (GUE/NGL) group of the European Parliament
A statement has been issued this afternoon by James Morrissey, on behalf of Denis O’Brien, in response to the report.
The Report on the Concentration of Media Ownership in Ireland makes for very interesting reading.
At the outset it is worth noting that it is self-described as “An Independent Study Commissioned by Lynn Boylan MEP on behalf of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) Group of the European Parliament.”
An “independent study” commissioned by a leading member of Sinn Fein? Hardly.
“The two most important controlling entities in the Irish media landscape are the national State broadcaster, RTE, and an individual businessman, Denis O’Brien” this Report states.
Yet there is no focus on RTE in the context of:
– The largest media entity in Ireland
– The only entity involved in TV, radio and print
– Revenues subsidised by licence fees amounting to €178.9 million
But then this ‘independent study’ was never intended to be a report on the concentration of media ownership in Ireland.
Sinn Féin is very diligent and adept when it comes to pushing its agendas, overtly and covertly.
After a disappointing General Election, An Phoblact [sic] went on the attack:
“State broadcaster came in for severe criticism as it slashed Sinn Fein’s coverage following a poll… which showed the party gaining ground… and for two days the voices of Sinn Fein were banned from the airwaves in a bizarre episode that was reminiscent of Section 31 and state censorship.” (March 7, 2016)
And on the eve of the Budget, Sinn Fein TD, Eoin O’Broin declared:
“Budget Day is all about choices. For decades, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, have looked after the big guy – whether that be Denis O’Brien or Apple.”
I am absolutely convinced that the contribution that Apple has made in this country is unquantifiable in financial and social terms. What about the thousands of young women and men who did not have to emigrate and who got a chance to work, live and raise families in Cork?
I have said that Apple should not be punished for its tax arrangements in Ireland. Sinn Féin’s stance on Apple has been, I believe both anti-enterprise and anti-Irish.
“Sinn Fein has been waiting with some relish for the EU verdict,” wrote Pat Leahy in The Irish Times (August 30, 2016) “and leaped into action: ’Give us back our money’ demanded MEP Matt Carthy. For good measure, Sinn Fein finance spokesman Pearse Doherty also called for a public inquiry into Apple’s tax arrangements.”
This report states that I am chairperson of Communicorp, as has various individuals including Dr. Colum Kenny, Dr. Roderick Flynn and Caoilfhionn Gallagher, legal firms Jonathan Price (Belfast) and KRW Law (London) and media organisations including The Irish Times and TV3.
It maybe [sic] a rather inconvenient truth, but I am not.
I suppose why let the facts interfere with the agenda and the messaging…
Is the media objective when it is talking and writing about itself? The media industry in Ireland is in decline. This decline has been ongoing for many years and it threatens and [sic] industry that has served this country exceptionally well, providing high levels of employment and spawned a number of writers who have deservedly achieved international acclaim.
Independent News & Media (INM) was days from forced closure back 2011.
Over €2 billion in shareholder value had been lost and the shares had collapsed from €27.30 to 41 cents as a previous board had racked up unsustainable levels of debt. I became am [sic] a substantial minority shareholder in INM (I am not on the board).
I am the owner of Communicorp which like RTÉ, TV3, The Irish Examiner and The Sunday Business Post operates in a very challenging environment. I understand The Irish Times is currently considering various funding options.
I believe that some media companies will not survive this decade without radical structuring including substantial funding.
I was surprised, for example, that RTÉ (and others) did not seek any comment from me on the ‘Report on the Concentration of Media Ownership in Ireland’ in the interests of balance and objectivity.
But maybe the powers that be in Montrose felt that they had been given a ‘free pass’ in the report that they chose just to quote from it?
I do not believe the Irish media is objective in relation to matters relating to itself. The prime reason is survival. Every media executive and journalist knows that the future of traditional media is bleak. It makes one entity undermining another easier to justify.
Sinn Féin/IRA certainly got the report they paid for. The cost of this report won’t have have bothered them too much.
They collected €12 million over 20 years in the US (Irish Times, March 7, 2015). The IRA is reported to have €400 million in global assets (Irish Times, August 29, 2015).
Brian Feeney, author, has suggested that a way should be found to stop “Sinn Féin people saying the IRA has gone away when self-evidently it hasn’t.”
The report references the words ‘chilling effect’ and the law in the same sentence. I bow to Sinn Fein’s superior knowledge on these topics.
Maybe instead of commissioning reports Sinn Féin would commit just some of its vast resources and support an ailing industry – become a fully-fledged broadcaster and publisher and create some jobs for a change?
Further to yesterday’s publication of the Report on the Concentration of Media Ownership in Ireland – commissioned by Sinn Fein MEP Lynn Boylan – and advance copies being given to the Sunday newspapers at the weekend…
Fintan O’Toole, in The Irish Times, writes:
Yesterday’s Irish Independent carried no word of the media ownership report. TheSunday Independent did deal with it, but by way of comment rather than reportage. Liam Collins opened his Zozimus column on page 12 with a reference to “Yet another tiresome blog on the ‘worrying lack of plurality’ in the Irish media from that paragon of British liberalism, Roy Greenslade.”
Greenslade, who is professor of journalism at City University London, had posted a piece on his Guardian blog drawing attention to the report.
It is, of course, entirely legitimate for Collins to find Greenslade’s writing on the subject tiresome – that’s a matter of opinion.
What’s striking, though, is that the only account of the report that readers of the Independent titles received on Sunday and Monday was through an attack on another reporter whose views were discounted in advance because he is, of all despicable things, a paragon of British liberalism.
Those readers would have no idea what the report actually says. The substance of Collins’s take on it, indeed, is that no one should bother reading it.
… The essential point, however, is that the sum total of the information presented on this event in the Independent papers on Sunday and Monday was to the effect that Shinners, Brits, liberals and socialists (a range of targets for contempt to suit every taste) have produced a tiresome document that you, the reader, don’t need to know about.