Author Archives: Anne Marie McNally

From top: Queues at Beechwood Heath estate, Hansfield, Dublin 15 last week; Homeless person sleeping at Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2; Anne Marie McNally

Over the last few days newspapers have led, either above the fold of below the fold depending on your paper of choice, with some variation on the current housing crisis.

Note I said housing crisis and not housing and homelessness crisis.

The sad fact is that homelessness, generally doesn’t connect hugely with many people. The misplaced and (frankly wrong) notion that homelessness only affects a certain ‘type’ is far too common. (The argument of why it still wouldn’t be OK to ignore it even if it was only a certain group is one for another day!)

This week there were ‘record new homelessness figures’ but that phrase has become so oft-repeated in the last few months it has really ceased to have any impact. It’s like nobody expects things to have improved since the last set of ‘record homelessness figures’ and why would they?

There are simply no emergency measures being put in place to both arrest and improve what has been a deteriorating situation for at least six years now.

Don’t get me wrong, there is *lots* of talk. And document launches. And relaunches. And millions and billions promised here there and everywhere but actual working solutions and the associated implementation of same? Nada.

Now to calm the Fine Galers who’ll likely burst a vessel telling me about their solution I’m going to tell you right off the bat that your ‘solution’ is crap.

That solution is the HAP scheme. The HAP scheme is, quite simply, the outsourcing of responsibility for social housing to the private sector. The State abdicating responsibility for a public service to the private sector…because that’s worked so well in the past hasn’t it?

The primary reason that housing hit the headlines this week was because there was a double-figure increase in house prices and scenes reminiscent of the worst times of the Celtic Tiger with people sleeping outside new developments waiting to hand over ever increasing sums to property developers to get onto this wretched thing we refer to as the property ladder.

A ladder that has in the past lured so many to put a tentative foot onto it for fear of being left behind while it gets pulled up. A ladder that for many of those people who managed to get a foot onto it, brought them down, crashing down, rather than up.

It’s not the fault of the people queuing. The societal pressure, the fear, the ‘what-if’ is huge but the repercussions of what we’re allowing to happen, again, are too big and too damaging to ignore, again.

It may be indelicate to mention it to those giddy with a mortgage approval in their pocket and hopes and dreams of a new home in their eye-line but one would be wise to bear in mind that many of the people now living in emergency accommodation, sleeping on families couches or indeed sleeping on the streets, once, not so long ago, slept on the street in an entirely different fashion.

They slept while queuing outside over-priced developments clutching mortgage approvals they could ill-afford or which eventually stretched them to breaking point.

Those sleeping in queues and those sleeping on the streets tonight are both looking longingly at homes they’d like to call their own. It’s worth remembering that the line separating the two situations can be extremely thin.

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

Top pic: Rollingnews

From top: Denis O’Brien; Anne Marie McNally

At the risk of sounding repetitive, we need to talk about media ownership and/or control. We specifically need to talk about it in an Irish context and I will continue to risk being branded repetitive by continuing to raise this issue.

A 2016 research project by Dr Roddy Flynn from Dublin City University found that Media plurality in Ireland was at ‘high risk’. 2016, some 43 years after the problem was first raised by former NUJ President John Devine.

When Mr Devins raised those concerns back in 1973 during Tony O’Reilly’s takeover INM, he was told the NUJ were fighting a losing battle because ‘no politician would pick a fight with someone who prints newspapers.’

Those words weren’t misplaced when it came to the February 2017 vote on a Bill tabled by the Social Democrats attempting to regulate media ownership. Fine Gael voted against the Bill while Fianna Fáil and Labour abstained.

And so it was that the majority of TDs didn’t fancy the fight with anyone who printed newspapers and thus the Bill was defeated. 1973 – 2016…Plus câ change.

Over the course of those 43 years whenever the issue of media control is raised, the main protagonists will shout about how they stay completely removed from any editorial decisions; that they exert zero influence or attempted influence over the editorial line and therefore the issue of who owns the media outlet is inconsequential.

But where is the proof of that?

I certainly can’t find any but there is no shortage of compelling circumstantial evidence to the contrary.

The past 10 or so days have witnessed an escalating story regarding the alleged data breach within INM.

INM titles account for the largest circulation numbers in the print media in Ireland. The Independent’s online news site is one of the most widely accessed on a daily basis in Ireland.

It controls major national titles but also many local and regional titles. The majority shareholder in INM is Mr Denis O’Brien. Its former (until very recently) Chairman was Mr O’Brien’s long-term business associate, Mr Lesley Buckley.

In yesterday’s Sunday Business Post, Gavin O’Reilly, the former Chief Executive of INM (who was ousted by O’Brien in the bitter battle between O’Brien and the O’Reilly family for control of INM) claims that during his tenure at INM he came under ‘sustained pressure’ from Lesley Buckley to remove the investigative reporter Sam Smyth from covering the Moriarty Tribunal.

The Tribunal had been established based on the superb work of Sam Smyth. That Tribunal was investigating the allegation that Denis O’Brien had made corrupt payments to the then Minister for Communications Micheal Lowry to secure the second mobile phone licence.

The Tribunal found unequivocally that Mr O’Brien had paid Mr Lowry and was thus corruptly awarded the mobile phone licence.

So why did the INM Chief Executive come under ‘sustained pressure’ from Buckley, who was an INM Board member at the time, to remove one of the best investigative reporters in the country from covering the Moriarty Tribunal?

Because Mr O’Brien was ‘very upset’ with Smyth apparently.

That doesn’t exactly Indicate a hands off approach to editorial decisions now does it?

When Anne Harris left her position as editor of the Sunday Independent she went public about what she claimed was editorial interference by O’Brien.

In 2014 Gavin Sheridan writing on noticed a significant change from an early evening print edition of the Sunday Independent and the later evening edition in an editorial piece written by Ms Harris.

In the early edition Ms Harris’s piece read:

“Denis O’Brien is the major shareholder in INM. In theory, with 29pc of the shares, he does not control it. In practice, he does.”

The later edition had not just changed the conclusion, but in doing so had changed the entire meaning of Ms Harris’s piece. It simply read:

“Denis O’Brien is the major shareholder in INM. In theory, with 29pc of the shares, he does not control it.”

Now talk to me again about the supposed hands-off approach to editorial line within media outlets under Mr O’Brien’s control?

It is worth remembering that here is a media owner (aside from being the major shareholder in INM he also owns 100% of Communicorp which operates Newstalk, TodayFM, Spin108, and 98fm among others) who has initiated 12 separate legal cases against journalists or media outlets. Not to mention attempts to use the courts to silence Parliamentarians or PR companies.

Indeed even satire has come into the legal cross-hairs of Mr O’Brien as Waterford Whispers news can testify. So it is that the much mooted ‘chilling effect’ exerted by Mr O’Brien is not just superstition and it ensures his control of the media in Ireland extends far beyond the titles for which he has legal ownership or control.

While there’s no denying that Mr O’Brien is a significant concern in terms of the high-risk to Ireland’s media plurality (and no ‘chilling effect’ can stop me stating that fact) it is undoubtedly time for us to take a serious look at the influence of any owner of significant portions of our media.

As the INM story unfolds we learn that Lesley Buckley, as Chairman of INM, (but bear in mind he is also a long-term associate of O’Brien) initiated the data breach and that the breach was paid for by a company called Blaydon which is beneficially owned by Denis O’Brien.

That ‘data-breach’, or hacking, depending on your perspective, has potentially compromised the personal data of huge numbers of employees and those they corresponded with and most significantly, has potentially compromised the identity of, and details provided by, sources used by Journalists in INM.

If you take only one thing away from the convoluted mess that is the INM story as it unravels over the coming weeks, keep an eye to the breadcrumbs that will be laid between the major shareholder, Mr Buckley and the names that emerge from the INM19 and the undoubtedly more to come.

Look closely at whether those names are of people who have been perceived to have somehow crossed O’Brien.

Those connections will undoubtedly be there but the ‘chilling effect’ will most likely mean that journalists will be forced to try paint you a picture wherein you’ll have to try and join the dots yourself or they’ll risk facing a day in court with Ireland’s largest media mogul.

View the unraveling story in terms of a reworked version of The New York Times motto of: ‘All the news that’s fit to print’. In Ireland, and on this story especially, it’s more likely: ‘All the news that’s safe to print’.

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

Top pic: Rollingnews

From top: Paddy Jackson  (centre) arriving at Langanside Courts in Belfast to hear the verdict in the Ulster Rugby rape trial; Anne-Marie McNally.

I hate to say it but we need to have a conversation. An uncomfortable conversation for many. A conversation that has, to some extent, played out in the media and in social circles for weeks now. The conversation needed is about consent; real consent, and respect; real respect.

I really would have preferred not to open this hornet’s nest but as a woman, and a woman with somewhat of a platform I feel I have an obligation to take part in the conversation.

From the outset I want to be clear that I haven’t nor won’t comment either way on a verdict delivered in a court of law. That’s not what this is about.

But whether you were a supporter on the #ibelieveher tag or the #ibelievehim tag it shouldn’t stop us from having a conversation about why those Whatsapp messages are so problematic and what they indicate about a culture of toxic masculinity that subjugates women and their sexuality.

Most of my closest friends are men. Good men. They wouldn’t be my friends if they weren’t, however in recent days I’ve had conversations where it’s clear we, as women need to keep highlighting how certain actions and words impact on us.

It’s not that men sometimes disregard that, it’s just that their lived experiences are so entirely different to ours.

I love hearing and trying to understand what it is to be male in this world and equally I shouldn’t be considered a ‘feminazi’ if I want to try and help you understand how difficult it can be, at times, to be a woman in a society which has pretty much always downgraded us to second-class citizens.

Too many people I know dismissed those WhatsApp exchanges as ‘awful but common’ or ‘just a normal part & parcel of the kind of *banter* lads have’. I can’t accept that. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, I’m saying just because it happens doesn’t make it OK.

The guys who confessed to hearing similar conversations mostly said they a) never took part or b) it made them slightly uncomfortable. What they didn’t say was that they’d asked the other guy or guys to stop. To not degrade women. To not speak about women like that in front of them. And that’s what it will take.

Because the eejit who thinks he’s being a ‘legend’ by bragging about treating women like crap will soon stop thinking he’s a legend when the other lads tell him it’s not acceptable. Then maybe the next time he thinks twice before recounting some derogatory tale and maybe eventually there’s nobody to tell the tale to and so those tales stop.

Even better would be for us as a society to get comfortable recognising that females being sexual is not taboo. For society not to place judgements on women based on their sexual activities. For it to be so normalised for a woman to be in control of her own sexuality that any guy trying to degrade a woman by focusing on her sexual activities would be laughable.

Such an attitude change requires strong, age appropriate sexual education at all stages of life. Education that is free of religious underpinnings and that is so much more than basic biology or warnings of disease or pregnancy.

It is education that focuses on the full gambit of healthy sexuality including things like body positivity, healthy relationships, sexual pleasure and of course consent. But not just the premise of consent but the real and practicable application of consent; enthusiastic and negotiated consent.

Everyone engaging in sexual activity must recognise consent as a constantly evolving process, and consent to one or a number of things does not confer consent for everything. That should be obvious but apparently it isn’t. Which leads me to enthusiastic consent.

When Hozier tweeted that consent should be sexy he wasn’t wrong, although he neglected to say it should be mandatory, his intention was right.

His tweet read

‘Lads, if you’re not convinced that consent, audible consent – something uttered, something whispered, something called for loudly – is sexy, then chaps I’m afraid you may not be doing this right.’

Stuart Olding’s statement after the verdict recognised that the complainant had a ‘different perception’ of what occurred that night. This in itself can be taken as an indication that negotiated and enthusiastic consent was absent.

Lads let me put it this way, I can pretty much guarantee you that your game isn’t strong enough to stun and mute a sexual partner for any protracted period of time during sex. And if you think it is then you best make sure you’re verbally checking in on the regular because that consent should be the loudest thing in the room- whatever form it takes.

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

From top: Denis O’Brien; Social Democrat-co-leader Catherine Murphy outside the High Court in 2015; Anne Marie McNally

Anne Marie McNally writes:

Last Tuesday night [March 20] RTÉ One;s  Prime Time aired a segment about the curious case of Denis O’Brien and the PR firm Red Flag.

This long-running saga between determined adversaries has captured the minds of…well very few actually.

Primarily because it is a convoluted tale of unusual events and powerful men (in the main) and telling the story is not always an easy web to untangle in a way that makes it accessible to those with limited knowledge of the various backgrounds or history of the main protagonists.

If you watched the Prime Time piece you’ll have seen yours truly here being interviewed as part of the package.

Not because of any involvement in the legal battle between  Red Flag CEO Karl Brophy and Denis O’Brien, but because I happened to be one of the key researchers on the Siteserv transaction and wider IBRC issues that Deputy Catherine Murphy first began raising back in 2014 – long before it came to national prominence or indeed was of interest to anyone outside the office of Catherine Murphy.

The research began to pay dividends when after six months of asking Parliamentary Questions and submitting FOI requests, the Department of Finance released internal documents to us under FOI which showed that they had raised significant concerns about how the management of IBRC had handled the Siteserv transaction as well as a number of other large transactions.

These revelations shot the issue into the limelight and suddenly the months and months of methodical research, and Catherine’s tenacity, began to pay off.

The question which formed the base of all the research was always, at its most basic, did the taxpayer get the best deal possible from a bank that had already cost them billions of euros?

If it could be proven that the best deal had been achieved then great, but if not, that deserved scrutiny. For us, it really was and continues to be, as simple as that.

But suddenly we found ourselves in a world of intrigue and curious events. Many of these events went publicly unremarked upon by us as we felt there was an element of a distraction about them and we made decisions about whether or not they these curious incidences were worth making a song and dance about.

We generally decided they weren’t.

Now, almost three years later and with some of the incredible elements of this saga now out in the open I find myself looking back and almost pinching myself at some of the experiences both Catherine and I encountered as the Siteserv issue rumbled through the Spring and Summer of 2015.

The Prime Time piece focused in on the curious case of Mark Hollingsworth – a journalist of some significant professional standing – and his unusual role in the saga. Upon first being contacted by him in July 2015 I ran a rudimentary background check and found he’d written extensively for major publications and was recognised as an investigative reporter, including on some high profile cases such as the Madeline McCann case.

He’d also written several books on corruption and Russian oligarchies. I spoke to journalist friends who vouched for his credentials. Basically, his bio stood up. Yet once I agreed to speak to him – over the phone initially, my Spidey senses immediately tingled. I refused to answer his questions (although he preferred incorrect statements of fact that he wanted me to confirm rather than asking actual questions).

Two months later when he arrived at a scheduled meeting in Leinster House with Catherine and I, he had done nothing to indicate my initial sense had been wrong and everything to confirm I was right.

When I described on Prime Time the type of clothing he showed up to the meeting in, it wasn’t because I’m fashion conscious. It was because it stood out to both of us as being highly unusual given the warm weather of the time and it appeared designed to conceal something.

The way he insisted on positioning himself in the room further cemented this belief and within minutes of commencing the meeting,

Catherine’s Spidey senses had also kicked in and she decided to cut the meeting short. It wasn’t long before he’d raised the Spidey senses of other journalists he met on his trip to Dublin and it soon became apparent there was, for all intents and purposes, a spy in our midst!

Things went from weird to weirder in the next instalment of my involvement in just one small part of this gripping international mystery.

Following our interactions with Hollingsworth, Catherine and I were advised (by people who know about these kind of things) to send a formal request for any files held on either of us from a number of secret intelligence agencies based in the UK – some of whom had MI5 connections and other such reputations which up until that point I had assumed was only true of movies with Daniel Craig in them.

It seemed things couldn’t get more surreal until the day that I, apparently randomly, hailed a taxi outside the Four Courts only to be greeted by a drive, who once I was in and started my journey, described himself to me as a former Mossad agent who was here to give me some ‘friendly advice’.

When he got agitated that I wasn’t taking him seriously enough, I began to realise this wasn’t a random taxi driver.

There I was, in a taxi, while a man with dark wraparound glasses gave me a ‘friendly’ warning that I was ‘likely’ under surveillance and that my phone, car and home were ‘probably’ bugged.

When he offered to use his former Mossad connections or his claim that he previously held a senior ranking position in Mr O’Brien’s personal security detail in Papau New Guinea to help sweep my car, home and devices, I politely declined.

When he proffered the names of other intelligence officers of various military backgrounds operating in the city who had myself and Catherine in their midst, I took note of them.

When he told me about the men purporting to be Sky Agents who had called to my home to install bugging devices, or how a simple exercise could ensure every key tap of my phone was traced, I snapped a picture of his licence and calmly asked him to unlock the doors and let me out.

We parted with a final warning from him that I would regret not taking him seriously.

I made a judgement call that the move had been designed to intimidate me and so I chose to ignore it and not make a song and dance about it. I did however speak to people in our security services that were able to confirm his identity and his background and the same for the individuals he had named – his claims stood up – this was no ordinary Taxi driver.

It was a frightening experience. However, we yet again decided not to make a fuss about it and apart from taking advice regarding precautions, I continued on with my work as normal – albeit using a few different phones!

In the months after I had these experiences I had a newspaper outlet scan my phone to check for bugging devices, I spoke to Roy Greenslade in The Guardian and we joked about how ludicrous this whole thing was as if we were old mates. The New York Times were in touch and Alex Thompson in Channel 4 took to calling me to keep up with developments. The Washington Post even popped a call onto me late one night.

It was a surreal experience that seemed like it couldn’t get any weirder and then Peter Murtagh blew that out of the water with an expose in the Irish Times last year that told the tale of a mystery USB, a trail across the globe that Jason Bourne would be proud of and of course, the now infamous Mark Hollingsworth.

So if last Tuesday’s Prime Time seemed slightly confusing to you, rest assured it is only the tip of a very large and hidden iceberg which still has plenty of story left to tell.

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



There you go now.