Journalist Tom Lyons (left) and businessman Denis O’Brien
The High Court, Dublin
Yesterday: Meanwhile in The High Court
Journalist Tom Lyons (left) and businessman Denis O’Brien
The High Court, Dublin
Yesterday: Meanwhile in The High Court
uusinessman Denis O’Brien going into the High Court this morning
This afternoon, in the High Court, businessman Denis O’Brien finished giving evidence in his defamation case against the Sunday Business Post.
Mr O’Brien is claiming he was defamed by the newspaper on March 15, 2015, when the then business editor Tom Lyons reported over six pages on an unpublished PwC dossier into Ireland’s banks which had been given to the then Taoiseach Brian Cowen in November 2008.
The newspaper reported that the PwC report revealed 22 men and their associated companies owed Irish banks €25.6billion when the property bubble collapsed.
Mr O’Brien was number ten on the list of 22.
One of Mr O’Brien’s complaints is that he was wrongly “lumped” in with a “gang” of “developer kings”.
He also disputes the figures which Mr Lyons attributed to Mr O’Brien and has said Mr Lyons should have rang him on the Friday before the article was published and asked him if he was “overstretched” or if he had “over borrowed”.
Mr O’Brien has claimed Mr Lyons never put these specific claims to him.
The jury in the High Court last week heard about a separate article Mr Lyons co-wrote with Nick Webb in April 2012, while he was working at the Sunday Independent, which was about a different PwC report on Anglo Irish Bank, and which Mr O’Brien also said contained incorrect figures.
The print article was headlined: “Anglo’s top 13 buccaneer borrowers.”
Mr O’Brien, on Thursday, told the court that he believed he had taken no action over this 2012 Sunday Independent article which revealed his confidential bank details.
On Friday, Mr O’Brien then told the jury that, contrary to what he had said the day before, his understanding was that his spokesman James Morrissey had actually engaged in lengthy correspondence with the Sunday Independent over the 2012 article and that he had, he believed, received an apology from INM’s then group managing editor Michael Denieffe.
But this morning, the jury heard this apology had nothing to do with the article co-written by Mr Webb and Mr Lyons in 2012.
Michael McDowell SC, for the Sunday Business Post, read out correspondence between Mr Lyons and Mr Morrissey ahead of the 2012 article in which Mr Lyons sought to get some information from Mr O’Brien to put into the article.
Mr O’Brien agreed with Mr McDowell that the response from Mr Morrissey was essentially a “get lost” response. But Mr O’Brien said it was “polite”.
Mr McDowell also read out correspondence between Mr Morrissey and Mr Webb after the article was published.
Mr Morrissey had criticised Mr Lyons in his correspondence to Mr Webb and claimed Mr Lyons had acted unprofessionally.
Mr McDowell said this amounted to an “attack” on Mr Lyons.
Mr O’Brien said: “No it was pointing out the obvious.”
He said it was “ridiculous” to pose questions about his banking in the first place as he was never going to give any answers.
Mr McDowell put it to Mr O’Brien that this represented the “height of hypocrisy”.
Mr McDowell said Mr O’Brien previously “went to some considerable length” in his evidence to say that the Sunday Business Post never contacted him about Mr Lyons’ story in 2015.
Mr McDowell asked how he could “reconcile” telling Mr Lyons and Mr Webb to “get lost” in 2012 with his criticism of Mr Lyons in 2015, saying the journalist didn’t contact him for comment – when Mr O’Brien would never have commented anyway.
Mr O’Brien said he was glad Mr McDowell mentioned the matter and again said Mr Lyons should have contacted him on the Friday evening before the Sunday Business Post article, and asked him specifically if he was “overstretched” and if he had “over borrowed”.
But when Mr McDowell asked him again if he would have responded to Mr Lyons, Mr O’Brien said: “The answer is no.”
Mr O’Brien said Mr McDowell was “mixing apples and oranges”.
Mr O’Brien said: “Why would any citizen of this country answer questions about their bank accounts?”
“Why would anyone discuss their private banking matters with a journalist… you’d want a bolt missing from your head to do that.”
He said it was “none of his business” and that if Mr Lyons asked him about this “visa card”, the answer would be the same: “It’s private”.
Going back to the 2012 Sunday Independent article, and the correspondence between Mr Morrissey and Mr Webb, in which Mr Morrissey accused Mr Lyons of being unprofessional and conducting himself in an unacceptable manner, Mr McDowell put it to Mr O’Brien that he was now “whinging” in the High Court claiming he had been defamed when he was “quite happy to defame somebody else in correspondence”.
Mr McDowell put to Mr O’Brien that he was accusing Mr Lyons of unacceptable and unprofessional behaviour because he didn’t put a specific figure [about his banking] to Mr O’Brien – a figure he never intended on confirming, denying or correcting.
Mr O’Brien replied: “That’s correct.”
Mr McDowell put it to the Mr O’Brien: “You’ve told the jury that you wouldn’t answer the question.”
Mr O’Brien replied: “Whether the number was right or wrong, I wouldn’t have answered it.”
Mr McDowell put it to Mr O’Brien that it was “utterly dishonest” of Mr Morrissey to defame Mr Lyons to his employers for failing to put an exact figure to Mr O’Brien when he knew Mr O’Brien wouldn’t comment.
Mr O’Brien said Mr Lyons got the wrong number and he shouldn’t have published any figure if it was inaccurate.
Mr McDowell put it to Mr O’Brien that he didn’t see the PwC report on Anglo Irish Bank which the Sunday Independent article was based upon.
Mr O’Brien confirmed this.
McDowell put it to Mr O’Brien that he then couldn’t have known if Mr Lyons quoted accurately from the PwC report or not. Mr O’Brien said: “No”.
Asked again why he believed Mr Lyons had been unprofessional in his conduct, Mr O’Brien replied: “Because he published the incorrect information.”
Asked again why he didn’t give any information to Mr Lyons, following on from his requests, Mr O’Brien replied: “Because it’s none of his business.”
Mr O’Brien repeated again that to ask about his banking affairs is “grossly unfair” and an “invasion of privacy”.
Mr O’Brien said whether the figure was right or wrong, he wouldn’t have commented on it.
Asking Mr O’Brien how wrong the Sunday Independent figure was, Mr O’Brien wouldn’t say and asked Mr McDowell if he was now trying to invade his banking details.
Mr O’Brien carried on refusing to tell Mr McDowell “how wrong” the figure in the Sunday Independent was.
He said: “I don’t mean to be rude but it’s my private banking matters. I have a right to privacy as a citizen, it’s grossly unfair.”
Mr McDowell further read out the response Mr Webb sent to Mr Morrissey in 2012 and into which he copied Declan Carlyle, who was an executive at INM at the time.
The jury heard Mr Webb told Mr Morrissey that his claim Mr Lyons had acted unprofessionally was “completely unacceptable” and that it was being rejected out of hand. Mr Webb said it was “baseless” and “defamatory” of Mr Lyons.
Mr Webb also said it was a “disgraceful slur” on Mr Lyons and he asked that Mr Morrissey “desist from disseminating this defamatory material forthwith”.
The jury also heard Mr Webb told Mr Morrissey that Mr Lyons had acted as he should have and it was he [Mr Morrissey] who gave “perfunctory answers”. Mr Webb asked Mr Morrissey if he’d like to send figures, they could run a clarification.
Mr O’Brien told Mr McDowell that he believed the latter comment was said “tongue in cheek”.
Mr McDowell asked Mr O’Brien if he had seen Mr Webb’s correspondence, in which he accused Mr O’Brien, via Mr Morrissey, of defaming Mr Lyons.
Mr O’Brien said he did.
Mr McDowell then asked Mr O’Brien how he then could have given evidence that he had got an apology from Mr Denieffe over the 2012 Sunday Independent article.
Mr O’Brien said: “Because Mr Morrissey told me that.”
Mr O’Brien said the correspondence in relation to Mr Denieffe was related to an entirely different matter. He said he had apologised to the court, that he was trying to be helpful last week and that he may have confused matters further – for which he was sorry.
Mr McDowell put it to Mr O’Brien that he must have known there was no apology over the 2012 article.
Mr O’Brien said that, last week, he said he wasn’t sure about the apology and that he had said he would have to check – which he has since done and that is why Mr McDowell’s solicitor had been contacted about the matter overnight.
Mr McDowell said that, far from INM giving an apology to him, they [INM] gave him “both barrels” over to the suggestion Mr Lyons had behaved wrongly.
Mr O’Brien said: “I’m saying to you there was another matter and other correspondence which led to an apology.”
He also again repeated that Mr Lyons had no right to ring anybody up and ask them about their private banking matters.
He said it wouldn’t happen in the UK and it shouldn’t have happened in Ireland.
He said it was “extraordinary that this journalist would be that ballsy” to ask about his banking and then, Mr O’Brien claimed, get the numbers “wrong”.
Mr McDowell put it to Mr O’Brien that he was refusing to divulge “how wrong” Mr Lyons was alleged to have been. He also said it was in the public interest to know about the insolvency of Anglo Irish Bank.
Mr O’Brien said it was his private business and said “we’re verging on voyerism, trying to find out what my banking details are, it’s not fair”.
Mr McDowell said the following to Mr O’Brien: “I’m going to put to you now that the fact that Anglo Irish Bank, at the time the PwC report was done, was hopefullsesy insolvent but pretending that it was solvent through the agency PWC report.
He added: “You were among the top 22 debtors of the Irish banking system at the time and one of the top 13 in Anglo Irish Bank, for which the taxpayer was going to carry the burden afterwards. Are you saying that that was an entirely private matter?”
Mr O’Brien said he was never a burden on any bank or IBRC, formerly Anglo Irish Bank.
He added: “I became a customer of IBRC in 1990. I’m not responsible for them going into liquidation.”
Mr McDowell said Mr Lyons believed, and still believes, that the Irish public deserved to know that a huge amount of indebtedness was concentrated on a small number of people.
Mr O’Brien said they were going to disagree on this.
At one point Mr Justice Bernard Barton intervened to say the jury needed to fully understand a point which was being made by Mr McDowell.
Mr McDowell told Mr O’Brien he made a very serious complaint against Tom Lyons and his professional conduct in a letter, for failing to put a figure to Mr O’Brien – a figure which Mr O’Brien has since claimed was wrong, without now telling the court how wrong it is.
And, Mr McDowell said, Mr O’Brien is now complaining that he wasn’t contacted in 2015, in relation to the Sunday Business Post article, even though he would have likely said ‘no comment’.
Mr O’Brien said his first complaint is that Mr Lyons should never have published any number and, secondly, the figure that he did publish was “absolutely wrong”.
Mr O’Brien went on to compare the Sunday Independent and Sunday Business Post articles and said it was totally different to be called a “buccaneer” [in Sunday Independent] as opposed to being referred to as a member of a “gang” [in Sunday Business Post].
Mr McDowell read out the Oxford dictionary definition of “buccaneer”:
“A pirate, originally one operating in the Caribbean. A person who acts in a recklessly adventurous and often unscrupulous way, especially in business”.
Mr McDowell continued: “Are you seriously saying ‘buccaneer’ in the Sunday Independent was more complimentary than ‘gang’ in the Sunday Business Post?”
Mr O’Brien said he was. He said ‘buccaneer’ is the name of a sporting club in Galway and “not a derogatory term in my mind”.
He went on to say there was “no comparison” between the two articles and to compare them was like comparing “chalk and cheese”.
Mr McDowell also listed Mr O’Brien’s property interests in Ireland, the UK, Portugal and Spain – following on from Mr O’Brien giving evidence that he is not a property developer but a property investor.
At one point, Mr O’Brien quipped that Mr McDowell knew more about his property interests than he did.
Mr McDowell said he was depending on information in the public domain and Google.
Returning to the 2015 Sunday Business Post article, Mr McDowell put it to Mr O’Brien that, in 2008, PwC prepared a report for the Irish Government in which they indicated, among other things, first of all that the banks were claiming to be in rude health.
Secondly, in the report, PwC put together a list of 22 – not 21, not 23 – of people who they said were the top borrowers from the Irish banks.
Mr O’Brien said: “We don’t know this because I’ve never seen the PwC report.”
He said the court is “naked here today” because Mr Lyons destroyed his copy of the report after publication of his article.
Mr O’Brien claimed PwC would also never have used the words used by the newspaper to describe him.
Mr O’Brien said the article was a “hatchet job” and became “more salacious” as it continued over a number of pages in the newspaper.
Just before Mr O’Brien finished giving evidence, the judge again asked Mr O’Brien if it was his position that he basically told the Sunday Independent to get lost in 2012.
Mr O’Brien agreed this was the case and said his banking affairs were none of Mr Lyons’s business.
The judge asked Mr O’Brien if he would have taken the same approach if Mr Lyons contacted him in respect of the Sunday Business Post article.
Mr O’Brien said it would have depended on the question.
He said if he was told he would be described as a property developer and someone who had a detrimental effect on the country, that he was “overstretched”, he would have said that wasn’t true.
Mr Lyons has started to give evidence this afternoon.
Asked by Mr McDowell if he [Mr Lyons] believed that Mr O’Brien could have “brought down the country” when he wrote his article in the Sunday Business Post in 2015, Mr Lyons said: “No that’s ridiculous, no individual could bring down the country. That’s just ridiculous.”
Of his story based on the 2008 PwC report in the Sunday Business Post in 2015, Mr Lyons told the jury it was something which was “incredibly serious”, of “huge public interest” and that the newspaper took the matter “very, very seriously”.
He also said the list was created by PwC and the sequence of people was put together by PwC.
Asked why the Sunday Business Post reported the names of the 22 borrowers and their indebtedness contained in the 2008 PwC report, Mr Lyons said: “We felt that this was demonstrative of the concentrated risk in banks.”
He said it showed the banks were lending too much to too few people.
Asked if this was his judgement or PwC’s, Mr Lyons said it was PwC’s.
In relation to Mr O’Brien’s view that his banking interests are his private affairs and not of public interest, Mr Lyons recalled that Mr O’Brien mentioned his credit card details but went on to say this is not what the Sunday Business Post was reporting on in 2015.
Mr Lyons said he “couldn’t care less if Mr O’Brien pays for Netflix or Sky”.
He said the PwC report was about “big picture numbers” and that the report was paid for by taxpayers which the Government “used to say we’re not in trouble, let’s go with the banking guarantee, everything’s fine”.
He said the context of the report was the biggest financial crisis in the world, not just the biggest financial crisis in Ireland.
Mr Lyons said he accepted Mr O’Brien’s view but, in his opinion, the PwC report was an “important document prepared by the State into what happened in the banks and public interest trumps one man’s opinion”.
Mr Lyons also said that he and his editor Ian Kehoe did have a conversation about whether or not they should have included Mr O’Brien’s name in the list.
He said: “But we said either it was in the public interest or it wasn’t. He [Denis O’Brien] was in there, we had to leave him in there.”
He said the debate over whether to publish Mr O’Brien’s name or not came about because “it’s fair to say, he sues a lot of journalists”.
Mr Lyons said there was a “fear factor there around him”.
But, he said himself and Mr Kehoe decided: “no, we’ve got to be brave here, we’ve got to include him”.
He said they couldn’t leave Mr O’Brien out and treat him as a special case over any possible fears that to include him would harm their future careers.
To further contextualise his point, Mr Lyons looked directly at Mr O’Brien when he said, by way of an example, this could have been a real fear if he were to ever potentially go back to work in either Newstalk or Today FM – radio stations which are both owned by Mr O’Brien.
Mr Lyons said the newspaper “reported faithfully” what was in the PwC report.
The court has heard that the banking inquiry, which was taking place at the time of the publication of the Sunday Businss Post article in 2015, requested of Mr Lyons a copy of the PwC report.
But, at this point, Mr Lyons had already destroyed it, to protect his source.
Asked if he was surprised when the inquiry asked him for the report, Mr Lyons said:
“It did surprise me. I had this suspicion they hadn’t got it. It was a gut instinct. But when it came out that they hadn’t got it, I was very surprised.”
The case continues.
Earlier: Like You Were Walking Onto A Yacht
The High Court, Dublin.
Denis O’Brien arrives to give evidence in his defamation action against The Sunday Business Post for including him in a series of articles on a PwC report into the 2008 banking crisis.
UPDATE: Meanwhile, in The High Court
Previously: You Probably Think This Song Is About You
The High Court, Dublin.
Following yesterday’s Carly Simon-based courtroom drama, Denis O’Brien arrives to continue giving evidence in his action against The Sunday Business Post over articles published on March 15, 2015 giving details of a critical 2008 report by accountants PwC into Ireland’s banks.
Yesterday: Meanwhile, At The High Court
Thanks Postman Pat (see comments).
Mr O’Brien has claimed the articles in the Sunday Business Post were malicious and that the newspaper souped up and exaggerated a story based on a PwC report to Government about Ireland’s banks and their biggest borrowers.
Under cross-examination, he claimed Mr [Tom] Lyons moved from one newspaper [The Sunday Independent] to another [The Sunday Business Post], brought his files, rewrote the story and turned it into something else. He said the journalist blamed 21 people for bringing down the country, and stuck him into the middle of it.
Denis O’Brien arrives at the High Courtn to continue giving evidence in a defamation action against The Sunday Business Post.
Mr O’Brien’s lawyers told the jury they should award Mr O’Brien “substantial damages to reflect the seriousness of allegations made” in a number of articles in the newspaper almost four years which gave details of a 2008 report by accountants PwC into Ireland’s banks.
Mr [Michael] McDowell SC asked Mr O’Brien to point out where the articles suggested that he personally was responsible for any wrongdoing.
He quoted the Carly Simon song “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you,” and suggested it applied to Mr O’Brien who seemed to think people would believe everything in the articles referred to him.
Mr O’Brien said he was not aware Mr McDowell was a music buff, to which Mr McDowell replied that he was a great fan of music station 98FM.
Digicel Chairman Denis O’Brien remains committed along with the Clinton Global Initiative to bring about real impact in countries like ours that need it most, as we face the effects of climate change. Thanks Denis.#impact #digicelhumanitariansupport #cgi #ideasintoaction pic.twitter.com/X5IzXtgeHJ
— Digicel Dominica (@digiceldominica) January 30, 2019
The Puerto Rico Convention Centre, San Juan, Puerto Rico
Beleaguered, debt-soaked humanitarian Denis O’Brien addresses the the third meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Action Network on ongoing hurricane recovery needs facing Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Dominica, and Antigua.
The CGI Action Network brings together leaders in government, business, and civil society to “develop strategies and solutions to address hurricane recovery needs facing the region, while laying the foundation for a more resilient future”.
Just ask Haiti.
Related: Shaky Foundation
From top: light blue areas are where Eir has ‘committed’ to commercial rural deployment plans, amber areas are the target areas for the state Intervention of the National Broadband Plan and blue areas are where commercial operators are delivering or have indicated plans to deliver high speed broadband services; Catherine Murphy in the Dáil last night
A Social Democrat motion calling for a “Government commitment that any National Broadband Plan roll-out will prioritise affordability for homes and businesses in rural Ireland” was debated in the Dáil.
Social Democrat co-leader addressed Minister for Communications Richard Bruton about the “laissez-faire approach to the original tendering and contract process”.
Investors in the only consortium left in the process include Denis O’Brien.
Ms Murphy said:
“Although the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, has not been in his current role for very long, I know he appreciates that the national broadband plan process has been ongoing for several years but many people in modern Ireland still have limited or no access to the tools required to participate in a modern society and economy.
It is crucial that we deliver broadband to such people. However, I cannot emphasise enough that we must do so through an unimpeachable process in which the veracity of the winning bidder and its ability to deliver long term are verified as well in a way that focuses on the net result for consumers, particularly in terms of affordability and broadband speed.
There is no point going ahead with the process if an average household will not be able to afford to connect to the infrastructure that is finally put in place or the network ultimately proves inadequate.
This must be about empowering our citizens to connect to a globalised world in their business and personal endeavours.
The process must guarantee the ability of the winning bidder to deliver the project or else the Exchequer will end paying by way of a State subsidy and-or citizens will pay the price of not being able to connect to broadband.
We must remember that if the contract is awarded, it will run for a considerable period of time. If we do not get it right, it could be very problematic to reverse it and doing so may involve the payment of compensation.
The old adage is that one must learn from past mistakes, yet nothing in the broadband process to date gives me confidence that we will not repeat current and past mistakes when it comes to the tendering process and the eventual awarding of the contract.
The results of the clearly flawed process for the development of the National Children’s Hospital are coming home to roost, involving colossal cost overruns, deadlines that have been missed on more occasions than I care to count and serious frustrations on all sides of the project.
Members on this side of the House are being asked to blindly trust the people responsible for projects such as the national children’s hospital to make the final decision on the national broadband plan. The metro north project went through a similarly incoherent and rocky process involving numerous incarnations and setbacks.
The same can be said of Luas and the eventual need for a cross-city Luas line which had been included on the original plans. In fact, there are myriad projects to which one could point as examples of the continued inability of this State to get major projects right first time. I acknowledge that this did not all happen on the Minister’s watch. There is ongoing failure in regard to such projects.
The penny must drop that we need to look at what we have been doing wrong in regard to such failures rather than just blame it on a system failure. If there is a system failure, one must fix the system.
The problems that have emerged with the national children’s hospital, for example, are not in the main resultant from something that happened after the project began. The major cause of the issues is a laissez faire approach to the tender and contract process before the project commenced.
If one does not ensure that the design plan, building blocks and builder are the correct choices, one will have a less than satisfactory outcome. That is why this period in the life cycle of the national broadband plan is of such importance. If we do not get things right now, we will pay the price at a later stage.
We have a one-off chance before any contracts are awarded to ask whether we can stand over the process to date and genuinely believe that the process as it stands will deliver the best possible outcome for users and the Exchequer.
All Members are aware of the significant and serious questions which arose during 2017 regarding the handling of the national broadband plan by the then Minister, Deputy Naughten. At the crescendo of the controversy, I, as well as members of Fianna Fáil and other Deputies, stated that the national broadband plan was fatally flawed.
The Government commissioned a report by Mr. Peter Smyth in a bid to prove otherwise and reassure people that the Minister attending various dinner parties and exchanging regular private calls and texts with the owner of the sole remaining bidder was not a problem.
At the time, I raised concerns about the ability of Peter Smyth to be entirely impartial in his report because he was the process auditor throughout the process which caused the controversy. It was a process failure and he was auditing that process.
When the Smyth report was furnished to the House, most Members were underwhelmed by its watery findings. In the absence of minutes or a written record of many of the interactions between the then Minister, Deputy Naughten, the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, and Mr. David McCourt, Mr. Smyth took the key players at their word that nothing inappropriate had occurred.
When Mr. Smyth commented at a follow-up press conference that he did not interrogate the then Minister or Mr. David McCourt because he did not think it appropriate to do so, he significantly undermined the veracity of the report and left serious question marks over the relationship between a Minister and a billionaire businessman – an all-too familiar vista in major communications contracts. In that regard, we must consider the learnings, or lack thereof, from past mistakes.
In the same way, we must look to the forerunner of the national broadband plan and ensure the lessons from its roll out and operation inform the broadband plan.
The municipal area networks, MANs, project was established in 2004 and contract extensions to run to 2030 were awarded to Enet in 2016. There remain question marks and ongoing court proceedings regarding the detail behind those contracts and their extension. However, in spite of orders by the information commissioner and the High Court to release the details in the public interest, the Department has continually refused to so do.
It has brought an appeal to the Court of Appeal – which, obviously, will be a costly exercise – to keep information the release of which has been determined to be in the public interest out of the public eye. Such secrecy rings warning bells and flies in the face of the stated ambition of an open government or governance approach to the process.
Leaving aside the significant questions regarding the contract process for Enet and the MANs, there are question marks over the operation, efficiency and usefulness of the plan in terms of the end user take-up of the networks.
In 2014, BT Ireland wrote to the Department expressing serious concerns regarding how Enet was operating the municipal area networks.
Several people and businesses, including public bodies, were unable to connect to the network due to the prohibitive cost.
Many industry experts have questioned the scale, coverage and take-up of the MANs across the country.
Those living in the intervention area should pay serious attention to this because if we do not learn from that process, exactly the same thing may happen with the national broadband plan.
A recent freedom of information dump from the Department to The Irish Times journalist Jack Horgan-Jones included a briefing note prepared for the then Minister in 2016 ahead of a meeting he was due to have with Mr. David McCourt who, at the time, was heading the consortium which had acquired Enet, which was operating the MANs.
The briefing note was prepared two years after BT Ireland, a major telecoms player with significant expertise, outlined to the Department its serious concerns regarding the operation of the MANs by Enet.
The briefing note of 2016 makes absolutely no reference to those concerns and states the MANs programme has proven effective. It has not proven effective if concerns are being raised by businesses and individuals and if there is a proven difficulty with take-up and cost.
It is surely hard to argue that a briefing that fails to acknowledge the serious concerns of a major industry expert like BT is comprehensive. One cannot just ignore that.
Thus far, only part of one of the two Department-commissioned reports into the MANs, namely, the Norcontel report, has been put into the public domain. We are still awaiting the publication of the Analysys Mason report into the operation of the MANs.
It is ridiculous that we do not have the information to allow us to consider this issue adequately and determine what has gone wrong or right in order to inform our consideration of the contract. Very often one is an expert after completing a process but one really needs to be an expert in advance.
The documentation on the experience of the forerunner to the national broadband plan should seriously comprise one of the most important sets of documentation available to the Minister and Opposition. That such secrecy and obfuscation surrounds this process should be a concern in and of itself.
That the Minister and his Department have pushed two court appeals – it may well have been prior to the Minister’s tenure – rather than accepting the High Court judgment and a ruling of the information commissioner to release details of the MANs contracts with Enet should raise eyebrows.
That the Peter Smyth report is, by its author’s own admission, lacking in veracity should raise concerns in its own right.
That the process has found itself with only one remaining bidder should raise eyebrows. Surely a contract of this magnitude should have had competitors beating down the doors to win it, yet we are aware that major telecommunications players such as Eir and SIRO pulled out of the process.
They cited governance and regulatory concerns. Do we really know what those concerns are? Have they been properly interrogated? Have we satisfied ourselves as to what governance and regulatory concerns Eir and SIRO were referring to? I do not believe we have.
At my request, Eir has agreed to appear before the Committee of Public Accounts next month. SIRO has not accepted that invitation. Enet has agreed but with some significant caveats as to what it will and will not discuss.
As I understand it, there is no comprehensive map within the Department or regulator of the networks that might already exist or the take-up of broadband within those networks.
Surely it makes sense to have an audit of current capacity before ploughing ahead with anything new so we can reduce duplication and possibly cost. For example, the ESB rolled out a significant fibre-optic domestic network using EU funds.
Individuals with more technical knowledge than I have told me it would not be a major job to use those networks to tack on the necessary hardware for broadband capabilities…
Similarly, we are aware that Bord Gáis rolled out the Aurora network and that Esat laid lines across parts of the country – for example, between Ballina and Tubbercurry.
Again, this was with EU funding. Eir is currently providing fibre-optic cabling to areas it deems economically viable in terms of its bottom line. What consideration, if any, has been given to the possibility of using any, or all, of these networks, even for a partial rolling out of broadband?
As I understand it, the ESB domestic fibre-optic network was established at a cost of €59 million. To date, has any discussion taken place between the ESB and the Department about the potential use of those networks?
The MANs, despite being operated by Enet, comprise a State-owned asset. Surely we must ensure that any current or future use of the infrastructure must oblige the user benefiting from the public finances to provide the service to all, regardless of the cost to the provider.
Having said that, I am acutely aware of the warning given at a conference by one of the consortia. It said a genuine discussion needed to take place on rolling out broadband to the last 15% of the country in terms of economic viability.
It said we needed to have an honest discussion about that. I would like to hear the possible impediments in this regard. I am sure they would have been articulated in outlining the problems with the roll-out.
Rural areas are affected but not-so-rural areas are also affected. Pockets of my constituency, which is really seen as the commuter belt area, are affected. The constituency is not exactly the most rural part of the country but it has pockets with very unreliable broadband.
Therefore, it is not an exclusively rural issue. Even in this city, there are spots where broadband is not particularly good. The required service can be guaranteed only if we get this process right while we have a chance.
Otherwise, we might find that a consortium of self-interested businesspeople will be given free reign to choose when and where it suits it to prioritise and how affordable it decides to make the end product.
There are those who are not taking up the MANs because of affordability. I cannot emphasise this enough.
It is very obvious that there is a really serious problem of institutional deficiency in the oversight of capital projects. There are some areas in which we do reasonably well because there is much expertise, such as roads, but with regard to some of the other projects it is as if we are spending Monopoly money, not the people’s real money.
We have got to be prudent about the process; otherwise it is going to be costly and will potentially not deliver on what has been promised.”
Minister Bruton’s response here
Last night: Broadband On The Run
…Moody’s, one of the world’s main credit ratings firms, has said that it’s Caa1 rating for the Digicel group, which is seven levels deep into “junk” territory, “reflects its high leverage and untenable capital structure, with the company still facing large debt maturities in the coming years and a weakening liquidity profile”…
…Ratings firm Fitch said that the push by the “controlling shareholder” – Mr O’Brien – to restructure Digicel’s debt, rather than raise additional equity or speed up asset sales, as well as the company’s move to subordinate certain bondholders as part of the bond exchange, will have consequences…
Michael O Keefe, Chief Executive of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland
“Media pluralism makes an important contribution to a well-functioning democratic society,” said BAI CEO Michael O’Keeffe.
Mr O’Keeffe was questioned at the launch about the BAI’s stance in July 2012, regarding the media interests of businessman Denis O’Brien – who has a 29pc stake in Independent News and Media (INM), which publishes the Irish Independent and other titles – where it ruled that Mr O’Brien does not control INM, “rather he has a substantial interest in the company”.
“I am absolutely happy to stand over that analysis that was done at that time,” he said.
Whatsapp messages released to Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy under the Freedom of Information Act gives further details on the New York meeting between former minister for communications Denis Naughten (top left) and businessman David McCourt, which led to Mr Naughten’s resignation
Via The Irish Examiner:
Social democrat TD Catherine Murphy, said it was only through her persistence that the thread of messages, many of which are punctuated with emoji, were released.
“In recent months I submitted a large volume of different and very specific freedom of information requests on various aspects of the former minister’s conduct throughout the National Broadband Plan process,” she said.
“With the exception of a handful, they have all either been declined, sent back for rewording, or have asked for what are already narrow timeframes to be narrowed further.
“Every obstacle in the FoI Act has been put in front of me regarding getting access to basic information, such as the former minister and his official’s interactions with David McCourt, Granahan McCourt, and Enet.”
In declining to grant access to some of the conversation, Murphy was told that “pictures on the WhatsApp messages [such as] refreshments, individuals, and minors” had been removed.
Murphy said she has now been left with more questions than answers.
“I am also anxious to understand if I have been left short of screenshots of the group on the day in question,” she said.