Tag Archives: Denis O’Brien

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Communications Minister Alex White

Theseuswhatnow?

From the Irish Times letters page…

“I don’t understand why Minister for Communications Alex White is so averse to legislation to clean up past media ownership deals that are strangling freedom of speech (“McDowell ‘chancing his arm’, says Minister”). In the past Mr White has vigorously defended openness. But he is guardian of an industry where Denis O’Brien has been allowed a controlling interest in media from Antrim to Kerry, in print and on the airwaves.”

“Diversity is obviously necessary in media ownership. But both the Competition Authority and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland have been remiss in protecting the public interest on this issue. Why? It seems to me that corporate power speaks loudest in the ears of each of these bodies.”

Mr White believes “constitutional property rights” prevent retrospective legislation. But the nursing home charges in 2004 were installed under a retrospective law. Neither the Supreme Court nor his own Government have done anything to reverse that situation. The constitution forbids retrospective criminal legislation, but is silent on such retrospective civil legislation as this.”

“Sadly I fear Mr White gets to the heart of the issue when he also cites “labyrinthine commercial issues”. It’s my guess that, at the heart of that labyrinth is a Denis O’Brien, still awaiting his Theseus.
RONAN BRADY,
Dublin 7.”

Diversity of media ownership (Irish Times)

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Kevin O’Sullivan at Dublin City University this afternoon

This is fairly delusional, in fairness.

Irish Times editor Kevin O’Sullivan defends his paper’s recent brouhaha with Denis O’Brien at the ‘Future of Journalism’ conference at Dublin City University this afternoon.

No, we weren’t invited.

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Denis O’Brien

In court today, Mr Cush said the proceedings are against the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, Ireland and the Attorney General and his side wants declarations in relation to matters mentioned in the context of Mr [Denis] O’Brien’s other proceedings against RTÉ, brought over a planned broadcast concerning Mr O’Brien’s personal banking affairs with IBRC.

It is also understood he will argue that permitting the utterance to be made amounts to breach of his rights under the Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights.

Denis O’Brien begins legal action against Houses of the Oireachtas Commission and State (Independent.ie)

Denis O’Brien brings case over Dáil comments about banking affairs (Irish Times)

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Denis O’Brien and his often tangled web of influence.

In interactive form [see link below]

Come into his parlour.

Pat writes:

Irish Water, Denis O’Brien, Siteserv, GMC. Find it all here illustrated. You can Zoom in and out, click on the elements and discover more content in their description. Each connection (as much as possible ) contains information on the nature of the link to the element it is connected to. For any query please reach out on twitter to @beyourownreason

A Tangled Web: Irish Water, Denis O’Brien and Siteserv (BeYourOwnReason)

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Stephen Rae (top) Group editor Of Independent Newspapers; Former editor of the Sunday Independent Anne Harris (below).

“One evening in November 2012 – a Monday, my day off – I was summoned to an “off-site” meeting. I had misgivings about attending. The previous Saturday, at edition time, there had been an attempt to pull a story about a statement issued by Transparency International Ireland, which had complained to a UN special rapporteur about O’Brien’s serial litigations against journalists.

“Accordingly, on alert, I asked if I should have somebody with me. No need, I was assured. The meeting was attended by two men, one of whom was a senior INM executive. Things were bad with the company, he said.

Certain “temporary measures” were necessary. Then we got to the core problem: O’Brien, the majority shareholder, was not to be written about in certain ways. Then he issued a specific directive: any reference to O’Brien was not to be handled by me, but was to be referred to the managing editor. When I pointed out that this was censorship, I was informed it was “sensitivity”. I later asked for the directive in writing, but was refused.

“I did get a series of emails which confirmed the directive but tried to revise what had transpired at the meeting. One ridiculously stipulated the stricture was to cover references to “all” INM shareholders (there are thousands); another said it applied to coverage of the three largest shareholders, O’Brien, Dermot Desmond and Tony O’Reilly.

Contact with O’Reilly elicited an immediate response: the stricture was “repugnant” to him. (I should add that in my three years as editor, the paper had no representations from Desmond.) At subsequent meetings with management, any pretence that the stricture was wider than O’Brien was dropped.

Contemporaneous with these meetings was the drawing up of a charter or code of practice for INM journalists with its infamous clause stipulating there could be no repeated, sustained, adversarial criticism of a person or organisation without the written permission of the managing editor. The charter eventually faded because a restructuring of the newspapers rendered it unnecessary.

“At one of these attritional meetings, I asserted that the managing editor did not outrank an editor. I was informed that an editor-in-chief would, and such a post could be created.

It was. On June 24, 2013, an editor-in-chief [Stephen Rae] was appointed, and within days the structure of the Sunday Independent was dismantled. From then on I never again held a meeting with my own staff that was not attended by persons with strange new titles taking notes furiously.

At the meeting to announce the appointment of the editor-in-chief I asked who, now, would make the decisions on coverage of O’Brien. I got no reply.

Copious correspondence asking the same question proved equally fruitless. But I did get an answer, a painful one, on July 19, 2014. In an article published in the early edition of the Sunday Independent, I referred to O’Brien and control of INM. Without reference to me, the editor-in-chief stopped the page and removed a crucial sentence.

I rang him to protest. The paper was delayed while we argued. In order to get the pages running again, several minor changes were negotiated. But I had no part in the removal of the crucial sentence. Did O’Brien have any knowledge of these events? I don’t know. I asked to meet him. I was told that wouldn’t happen.

Anne Harris, ex-editor of The Sunday Independent, in yesterday’s Sunday Times (behind paywall).

Previously: Continuity Rae

Denis O’Brien’s Editorial Interference: The Smoking Gun?

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This morning

Justice Donal Binchy, in the High Court, has refused to lift an injunction preventing RTÉ from reporting information about Denis O’Brien and IBRC.

RTÉ’s Vivienne Traynor told Seán O’Rourke earlier:

“RTÉ had argued there was no point anymore in this injunction, that everything was in the public domain and the effect of the order continuing was like holding a sword of Damocles over RTE and the entire media.

The judge [Donald Binchy] disagreed, he said today in this 11-page judgement that the court was being asked to lift orders in relation to documentation and information which was unknown and which may or may not already be in the public domain.

Now lawyers for Denis O’Brien were, he noted, no longer objecting to the broadcast or publication of the proposed script because much of that is in the public domain but lawyers for IBRC say some of the script contains legal advice and they were claiming legal professional privilege over that but, firstly, Mr Justice Binchy said that the court was also being asked to recognise that RTÉ had acted responsibly to date and to accept that there was no reason why it would not continue to do so.

And he said that it was indeed the case that RTE had acted responsibly and it was reasonable for the broadcaster to make this application. But notwithstanding the developments which he described as dramatic, he said it did not follow that the court order should not be continued in relation to information that has not yet come into the public domain. ”

He said, on the contrary, the rationale of the original decision of the court still applies in relation to any documentation or information that has not yet come into the public domain and, interestingly Seán, he also said that the defendant, that’s RTÉ, continues to hold confidential information and documents belonging to the plaintiffs, that’s Denis O’Brien and IBRC, and has declined to identify that documentation, in its possession and he said that the plaintiffs had established a convincing case that this documentation is the subject of a right of confidence and if the case proceeds to a full trial and if the plaintiffs succeed, he said, they will obtain orders requiring the return of that documentation aswell as permanent injunctions regarding publication of that information.”

[Denis O’Brien’s lawyers] were saying that, while the information contained in the proposed script was now in the public domain that RTÉ was still in possession of other information and did not say what that information was and they said that the terms of the injunction went beyond simply what the proposed script was.

And the judge agreed and said that the plaintiff shouldn’t have to rely on the good intentions of RTÉ and it wasn’t unreasonable to infer that RTÉ wanted to leave open the possibility that it might want to publish information concerning Mr O’Brien between now and a full hearing of this matter unless restrained from a court by doing so. And he said it wouldn’t be appropriate to vacate the existing order but instead, the correct course of action to take was to amend the order to take account of developments since it was originally made.”

High Court refuses to completely lift O’Brien injunction against RTÉ (RTÉ)

Photocall Ireland

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Independent TD Mattie McGrath (top)  and Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan (centre right), acting as Ceann Comhairle in the Dáil last night and an internal Anglo Irish Bank email from 2010 (above)

Independent TD Mattie McGrath, from Tipperary, was the final TD to contribute to the Dáil debate on the Commission of Investigation into certain IBRC transactions last night.

He started to speak about the 2012 sale of Siteserv to Denis O’Brien’s company, Millington, when Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan – acting for Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett – interrupted him and warned him that certain people could take action against the Houses of the Oireachtas.

At one point during the debate, Mr McGrath, addressing Finance Minister Michael Noonan, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Environment Minister Alan Kelly, read from an email.

He also referred to Denis O’Brien as Mr X.

Mattie McGrath: “I’m delighted that the Minister is here tonight and I know he’s tried hard, since he came in to Government to try and sort out the banking mess but there are huge questions that have arisen.
And I’ve some questions here for the minister tonight as well. In March 2012, an O’Brien special-purpose vehicle, Millington Ltd, was bidding €50 million in cash for Siteserv. The company we hear so much about today. And don’t look so perplexed minister, I’ve some questions that I’ve…”

Bernard Durkan: “I just want to warn you, deputy, I don’t want the debate moved into what is the subject matter of the origins of the debate so that just because issues in the public domain,some of them, I don’t want new issues, and new material, to be brought into it. So, and the House should always be aware, the House should always be aware, that members have absolute privilege and you can exercise that absolute privilege. However, that doesn’t stop a member of the public, outside, from taking an action against the Houses.”

McGrath: “I didn’t say he could and I hope you’ll allow my time. So, I don’t know, are we here to trash it out or not.”

Durkan: “You know the rules of the House.”

McGrath: “I know the rules of the House, but I think that was upheld by my good, learned colleague from Tipperary [Judge Donald Binchy] last week in the High Court. This is what’s going on. I mean, given that Mr X, sure were all know who he is, owed €500 million to IBRC in March 2012, why did that bank not ask him to pay down this debt by €50 million rather than giving him money to purchase Siteserv? Simple question.
Given that Mr X owed IBRC and IBRC were not concerned that Mr X was funding the purchase with more debt from other banks, making IBRC’s lending positive situation unsustainable, simple questions. What steps were taken by the board of IBRC to gain a full picture of Mr X’s Irish and international borrowings, before entering into the Siteserv deal?
If you or I walked into the bank, or Minister Noonan, and we owed them ten grand and we wanted a loan of €4,000, we’d have to ask the questions. So it doesn’t seem to have…there are two levels here of what’s going on, two different rules.”
Other IBRC customers were being put out of business or tiny bits and pieces in relation to what was going on.
…And what’s more worrying is is an internal email that I have here from two senior managers in IBRC. I won’t name them as you’ve asked me to, but the content of the email is strange. “You want to send me over your one, your one on Nama, if you do, if you did for this.” “I will lash it out later.” “Have a quick look at Mr X, there will be fireworks.” Internal. There. From your minutes. You said you couldn’t find them, they’re all there. I have them here I can hand them to you and documents to go with them.”

Last Night: Meanwhile, In The Dail

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Catherine Murphy in the Dail this evening

During tonight’s debate on the Commission of Investigation into certain IBRC transactions, including the sale of Siteserv to Denis O’Brien…

When I met with the Minister yesterday I highlighted that my main concern would be that the investigation does not end on Prom [Promissory note] night and that it extends into the time when the IBRC was in liquidation.

There are many issues that straddle both time periods and it is vital that the investigation can properly follow these threads.

For example, the purchaser of Siteserv, was already significantly indebted to IBRC. We know that on the 7th of March 2013 – one month post liquidation – that he wrote to the special liquidator seeking to reschedule his outstanding loans over a further 3 year period.

We know that he claims to have been allowed a similar extension by virtue of a verbal agreement he claims he had with the CEO of IBRC (Mike Aynsley).

We also know that, according to IBRC, the credit committee had never approved such a previous agreement yet Mr O’Brien maintains it was in place and he requested that the special liquidator be made to honour that verbal agreement.

I wish the minister to clarify if the assertion of such a verbal agreement will be enough to satisfy the Terms of Reference regarding the ‘contractual obligations’ required in relation to investigating issues that straddle pre & post liquidation.

We know that the credit committee met on the 23rd of May 2013 – two months after Mr O’Brien’s approach to the special liquidator and at that time the outstanding balance owed to IBRC by Mr O’Brien was in the region of €325million.

It is worth, at this point, asking the question as to why someone, so heavily indebted, was allowed to make significant purchases from IBRC rather than being asked to pay down his outstanding loans. Were other bailed-out banks financing this buying exercise? Was he borrowing from Peter to pay Paul?

Interestingly, an article that appeared in the UK edition of the Sunday Times in January 2012 showed that in 2011 & 2012 the IBRC refinanced some of Mr O’Brien’s loans and increased their security stake in some of his investments. It seems illogical that in the same time period they allowed him to purchase Siteserv for example.

The point here is that some of the documents I am referring to relate to the Special Liquidators era hence the need for the period to be covered by the terms of reference.

In recent days, The Chairman of IBRC (Mr Dukes) has made much of the fact that the Central Bank conducted a review, prior to July 2012, and apparently found no problems.

Contradicting that assertion however is a relevant piece from the FOI documents from inside the Department when they said

“We are concerned that the Central Bank report compiled on the transaction vindicates their position. To be clear we are concerned with a number of the decisions taken by the bank in relation to this transaction.”

….Yet It was not until I received an FOI of July 2012 internal Dept memos did we learn that the Department officials were expressing serious concern over the effectiveness of the CEO and the management team and they had serious concerns over the way a number of large transactions, including the Siteserv sale had been handled.

….Another significant issue that raised its head in some of the early reporting of this controversy but has since been replaced by other developments is the share activity in Siteserv prior to its sale.

Various sources of information told me that the Siteserv share activity in November 2011 – the period during which the bidding process was underway – was irregular and that there had been a significant share spike around the time it was sold resulting in a nice windfall for some lucky investors.

Unfortunately it was indicated to me that some of those investors may not have been so much lucky as they were well-informed. Indeed the Chairman of IBRC confirmed in an RTÉ interview that Denis O’Brien for example, had been given advance notice of the sale before it was announced. Did others have similar information?

The unfortunate thing here is that while I know what insider trading is, I don’t yet know how we deal with it here in Ireland. On foot of my information regarding share activity, I wrote to the Irish Stock Exchange who advised me that it was not within their remit and that I should talk to the Central Bank.

I wrote to the Central Bank who told me it was outside of their remit. I then wrote to the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement whose reply came back today to tell me that it does not appear to come within the remit of their office.

….In my speech on May 28th I referred to loans held by Mr O’Brien that were due to be repaid in full in 2011 and 2012. We know they were not repaid in that timeframe.

Effectively, once the agreed term expired, those loans were in default and became callable on demand. IBRC’s own terms and conditions allowed them to charge default interest rates yet they chose not to do so in this case.

Many sources have come forward both before and since that speech, to say that they had personal experience of being both performing and non-performing borrowers of IBRC and their experience of their loans being called in, in a ruthless fashion and other defaulting borrowers talk of the punitive interest rates applied to them.

…..The plight of the former Irish Nationwide Mortgage holders and the way in which they have been treated by IBRC compared to the very favourable environment that seems to have been provided to Mr O’Brien for example is perhaps an indication.

Catherine Murphy, Independent TD for Kildare North

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